Iranian wedding or Persian wedding traditions go back to the ancient Zoroastrian tradition, despite their local and regional variations (for example Iranian Azerbaijan region). Though the concepts and theory of the marriage have been changed drastically by Islamic traditions, the actual ceremonies have remained more or less the same as they were originally in the ancient Iranian culture.
Although Iran is multi-ethnic country, Iranian wedding traditions are observed by the majority of ethnic groups in Iran and neighboring countries and regions such as Republic of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.
Before The Wedding
Khastegāri (Persian) is the first step of the traditional Iranian marriage process. When it is time for a young man to get married, his family will look around to identify a number of potential brides. Some men ask their parents to suggest potential brides, if they have been unable to find one themselves. However, this has become rarer in recent years, with men and women mixing and meeting freely themselves. Once the man, or his family, have decided on a potential bride, the Khastegāri process takes place.
For this ceremony, one or more representatives of the man’s family pay a visit to the woman’s family. The first visit is purely for the parties to become acquainted with one another. The first visit does not include a formal proposal and there is no commitment – it is perfectly acceptable for the man and his family to go for more than one Khastegāri in a short period of time. Following the first visit, both parties can begin to think more seriously about whether they would like to pursue a relationship. Both the woman and the man have their say in whether or not they would like a follow up to this visit.
Baleh Borān (Persian) is the ceremony which takes place a short period of time after the formal proposal, publicly announcing the couple’s intention to form a union. At this stage, both the man and woman are happy with each other and, traditionally, both their families have agreed to the union and any conditions surrounding the marriage.
The groom’s parents usually give a gift to the bride at this ceremony. According to an ancient Zoroastrian practice, this is done by the groom’s family in order to persuade the bride to accept the proposal. The traditional gift is a ring.
The Nāmzadi ceremony (Persian) takes place at the bride’s family home. The man and woman, alongside their families, will determine “the gift of love”, known as the Mehriyeh, as well as the date of the wedding. This may be held as early as a year before the wedding itself, in order to allow time for all the wedding arrangements to be made.
The Iranian engagement ceremony, known as the Nāmzadi, involves the bride and groom exchanging rings, followed by a reception and/or party.
It is tradition to eat Bamieh sweet in the Shirini-Khoran The sharing of refreshments that follows the Nāmzadi ceremony is called Shirin Khorān (Persian) including tea and Persian desserts such as bāmiyeh (light doughnut balls), Nān-e berenji (rice flour cookies), chocolates, ājil (nuts and dried fruit), are served as part of the festivities. Eating sweet food stuffs at celebratory events such as an engagement ceremony carry symbolism such as wishing for sweetness in the couple’s life in general.
The Jahāz Barān (Persian) also known as Tabagh Barān (Persian) ceremony is a few days before the wedding, presents from the bride’s family are taken over to the groom’s house. Men from the groom’s family dressed up in festive costumes carry the presents on elaborately decorated large flat containers carried on their heads. The containers are called tabagh (Persian). This ceremony is also called Tabagh Bārān. Although this tradition might be practice in small towns and villages but in cities, such as Tehran, means of transportation is used deliver the gifts to the bride.
Hanā Bandān (Henna Night)
Hana Bandān (Persian) is the ceremony held one day before the wedding in the home of bride and groom. It generally takes place at the girl’s home and among women, although either side can choose to host it. It is very popular in Iranian Azerbaijan region, neighboring Azerbaijan Republic, and Turkey. Usually dry henna brought by the bridegroom’s family is broken to pieces in a silver or copper vessel by a woman whose father and mother alive, not experienced any separation. After preparing the bride, veil ornamented with red flake is placed over her head, and she is brought into the middle with hymn and folk songs about henna.
Henna that has earlier kneaded with water is brought in on a tray surrounded by candles and placed in the middle of the room. In some places, the henna is first put on the hands of the bride and then distributed to the guests; in other areas the henna is first distributed to the guests, and only after everybody has left is it placed on the bride’s hands. If the woman so wishes, henna can also be placed on her feet and hair.
Considerable attention is paid to charging a woman with a happy marriage to knead and distribute the henna and apply it to the girl’s hand. The woman places the henna on one of the bride’s hands, and a young girl places it on the other. Before the henna is applied, coins or gold are also placed in her hands. After woman who came together for dying henna leave, close friend of the bride remain with her and enjoy themselves till morning.
The Wedding Ceremony
Iranian Marriage Ceremony, Its History & Symbolism
“I say (these) words to you, marrying brides and bridegrooms! Impress then upon your mind: May you two enjoy the life of good mind by following the laws of religion. Let each one of you clothe the other with righteousness. Then assuredly there will be a happy life for you”.
The Iranian wedding ceremony despite its local and regional variations, like many other rituals in the country goes back to the ancient Zoroastrian tradition. Though the concepts and theory of the marriage have changed drastically by Quran and Islamic traditions, the actual ceremonies have remained more or less the same.
“Iranian Aghd (wedding) Ceremony”
For Iranians marriage is an event, which must be celebrated not quietly but with glory and distinction. It is the most conspicuous of all the occasions and is celebrated in the presence of a fairly large assembly. In the past the parents and older members of the family arranged almost all marriages. This is still the case in rural areas and with traditional families. Modern couples however, choose their own mate but their parents’ consent is still very important and is considered by both sides. Even with modern Iranians, after the couple have decided themselves, it is normally the grooms’ parents or other relatives who take the initiative and formally ask for the bride and her family’s consent. Once this is done then the marriage will be announced. In the ancient times, the musicians playing at marriage gatherings used drums to announce the marriage to the people of the town or village. The group that gathered for the marriage was called the assembly for the queenly bride. Traditionally, both the bride and the bridegroom dressed in white with garlands of flower on their necks. The color white is a symbol of purity, innocence and faithfulness. Today most modern Iranians follow the European dress code and style.
Once the groom and his family express their desire for the union, they go to the brides’ home with flowers, sweets and sometimes-gold coins or jewelry and ask for her hand. If accepted more presents will follow. The couple becomes engaged in a reasonably lavish party. Rings are exchanged; the engagement rings are simple, mainly gold with no stones. While the wedding ring presented to the bride will be lavish expensive with precious stones. The engagement ring is sent to the bride’s house with female relatives of the groom. A few days before the actual ceremony again more presents are taken to the bride’s house. The modern Iranians normally by pass some stages like sending the ring through relatives and outside Iran tabagh and khoncheh are hardly used. However ceremonial objects are still present.
Mirror and candelabras are amongst the most important ceremonial objects that are taken to the brides’ home and they are reminiscence of the Zoroastrian religious believes. Grooms’ family is expected to pay for all expenses and if they cannot, they will be looked down at.
All financial details are sorted out before marriage and the couple’s parents, mainly fathers, will carry out negotiations. With prosperous families the issue is settled rather quickly. However families with not enough means may drag the negotiations for a while bargaining about how much should be paid and what should be included in the marriage contract. Bride in Persian is called arous, which means white. The word was used in Sassanian period and exists in Avestan literature as well.
“Sofreh Aghd” Guests were invited by sending written invitations to the men or simply by calling on them and letting them know. For the women a female servant or relative would personally visit the households and present the ladies with noghl (small sugary sweets), nabat, and cardamom seeds in a silk or satin handkerchief with lace placed on a small glass plate. She would offer them the sweets, would tell them the time and place.
Modern Iranians place sweets and candies like noghl and nabat in small satin kerchiefs or lace for the guests to take home. The tradition of giving gifts to guests is very old and existed before and after Islam.
Mirrors and candelabra with Espand (a popular incense), large decorated sugar cones, cardamom seeds, rosewater, henna, dress fabrics, prayer mat (janamaz) and candles were sent at this time to the bride’s house. Included was specially decorated bread called khoncheh still placed on the wedding spread. These were carried on tabagh with singing and clapping and accompanied by male musicians if they could be afforded. All the males stopped by the entrance to the bride’s house and women took over from this point on. The day before the wedding was the bathing day. The bride and other female relatives went to the bathhouses.
Today still many of these traditions are kept and carried out even though they might be ceremonial. The wedding is almost identical to the past and all brides will have the mirror and candelabra if not the other items. A very important part of the pre wedding activities is dowry preparation by the bride’s family. Till very recently the girls were expected to prepare many of the items themselves.
The bride and the bridegroom have each at least one marriage witness. Usually older and married males are chosen amongst close relations to stand as witnesses. The priest (Mula) or other males with recognized authority i.e. a notary public perform the legal part of the ceremony.
First the bridegroom is asked if he wishes to enter into the marriage contract, then the bride is asked the same question. Once the bride is asked if she agrees to the marriage, she pauses and remains silent. The question is repeated three times and it is only at the last time that she will say yes. With the very rich each time the bride is asked the question the groom’s mother or sister would place a gold coin or a piece of Jewelry in her hand symbolically encouraging her to say yes. During the service female relatives of the couple (mainly the bride) hold over the couple’s head a fine scarf or other delicate fabrics like silk.
Two different actions take place at the same time. Two pieces of crystallized sugar (shaped like cones) are rubbed together, a symbolic act to sweeten the couple’s life together.
Once the bride has said yes to the proposal, verses from holy books are read. Documents are signed, the amount of mahr (bride price) is entered in the legal document, which is signed by the couple and the witnesses, and the two are announced man and wife. The practice of setting up a bride price is becoming a ceremonial one for most modern couples. Most will settle for a holy book, a gold coin and some flowers mainly roses. Once this is over, the couple hold their right hands together, drink a sweet liquid or taste some honey for a better and sweeter life.
At this time the bride and groom exchange wedding rings. Then the bride is showered by gifts, usually expensive jewelry and all she receives is hers and the husband has no right over the presents. The groom also receives gifts from the bride’s family, normally an expensive watch and other male items like gold chain etc.
The elaborately decorated spread in front of the bride and groom contains several items each symbolizing a different aspect of the ancient religion. Mirror and candelabras represent light and fire, two very important elements in the Zoroastrian religion. The large flat bread is specially baked and decorated to bring prosperous feasts (specially baked bread was and is still used by Zoroastrians as holy bread in many of their rituals and ceremonies). Gold represents prosperity. Honey and crystallized sugar is to sweeten life. Espand a popular incense is burnt. This item is used in many Zoroastrian religious ceremonies, rituals and purification rites. It is believed to keep the evil eye away and purify.
A large porcelain bowl containing a number of sweet drinks (sherbets) depending on the location was and is still part of the spread in most places. A bunch of herbs called sabzi (green herbs are called sabzi) like parsley and mint with bread and cheese was also placed on the spread and it still is in many places.
After the ceremony, there are lavish feasts, dancing, music and entertainers. There will be more parties given by close relatives and friends for the next few weeks. These parties are called paghosah, meaning clearing the path. They are to introduce the two newly related families to each other.
Guests would be served tea, fruits, non-alcoholic drinks, nuts, raisins and other dried fruits with all kinds of pastry and baked goods. In the past it was considered good luck to take back some of these but most modern Iranians do not practice this anymore. Honeymoon is a new concept and still most couples in rural areas and smaller cities are not familiar with this occasion.
Iranian Sofreh Aghd (Table of Wedding)
The sofreh aghd is a traditional wedding ceremony spread where legal marriage and ceremonial traditions are exchanged. The ceremonial traditions have been practiced for thousands of years, and sofreh aghd spreads are usually very customary at Persian weddings. Like most, Iranians have diverse religious backgrounds and the sofreh aghd is a chosen cultural ceremony commonly practiced regardless of faith. There are many symbolic items which make up the sofreh aghd spread, all in which represent an element of the couple’s new life together. The word “sofreh” means “spread” and “aghd” means “ceremony.”
While most aim to keep the traditional elements of the sofreh design, each sofreh is unique in its own and designed around the bride and groom’s style. Every sofreh aghd design has traditional must-haves; however, based on the taste and budget of the couple, some sofreh designs are more elaborate and intricate than others, while others are more simple and understated.
After The Wedding
Traditionally, on Pātakhti (Persian) the bride wears a lot of floral ornaments and the decoration of the house with flowers is provided by the groom’s family. The relatives of the bride and the groom bring them presents. This is usually more of a party with finger foods, sweets and drink than a sit-down dinner. The majority of the night is spent dancing and socializing. It’s almost like a bridal shower, but is held after the wedding.
Pagoshā (Persian), which literally means opening leg, is a ceremony held in the house of newly married couple’s relatives. Runamā (Persian) is the name of the gift that is usually given to the bride and groom by the relatives. The couple’s new status as “a family” is celebrated this way. In Iran, where families are a lot bigger and there are more of them around to throw parties, it is usually a very exciting and exhausting time for families of the bride and the groom who are invited to one Pagosha after another for several weeks following a wedding.
Mādarzan Salām (Persian) literally hello mother in law is generally the morning after the wedding ceremony when groom visits his mother in law and gives gift to her.
Mah-e Asal (Iranian Honeymoon)
Mah-e Asal (Persian) is a vacation spent together by a newly married couple. Northern provinces of Iran such as Mazanderan, Golestan and Gilan are very popular destinations for honeymoon. In recent years cities of Turkish Riviera such as Antalya and Alanya are attracting more Iranian newly married couples because of no visa requirement between Iran and Turkey.