W could have been the iconic Writers’ Building with a historical and political significance, Waldorf – one of the oldest Chinese restaurants in Park Street or the Walking Tours that give a glimpse into the heritage and history of the city. But I couldn’t let go of an opportunity to cover an interesting topic that is essentially all about the Bengali culture and rituals – Wedding (biye in colloquial Bengali).
Wedding (Biye) –
A host of deep, meaningful rituals seeped in culture and tradition are performed amidst colorfully elegant and immensely creative decorations. The Bengali weddings are celebrations of colour, camaraderie and beauty . They are elaborate affairs with celebrations spanning for 2-3 days from morning till night. The rituals and their executions are subtly different among the two main subcultures in Bengal, the Bangals (Bengalis with roots in Bangladesh) and the Ghotis (Bengalis with roots in West Bengal).
Pre-Wedding Rituals –
Paka Katha or Pati Potro – Generally applicable in arranged marriages, this is a formal meeting between the family members of the bride and groom to agree upon the various aspects associated with the marriage. Paka Dekha is the term used by the Ghotis while Pati Potro happens among the Bangals.
Ashirvaad – The bride and groom are blessed by the elders of the family along with gifts pertaining to jewellery, saree and other items. This is followed by an elaborate feast. For certain households, ashirvaad happens only on the evening of the wedding.
Aiburobhat– This is bridal shower before the wedding day. Generally, close friends and relatives gather at the bride’s house. She is blessed with gifts and then treated to an elaborate meal of rice, fried items, vegetables and various dishes of fish. The same ritual is followed in the groom’s house. This is considered to be their last meal as a spinster/bachelor.
Sankha Porano – The bride is made to wear traditional Bengali symbols of marital bliss – the Sankha which is bangle made from Conch Shells and Pola – Bangles made from red Corals on the evening before the wedding day.
The morning of the wedding
Dodhi Mangal – The bride and the groom are fed with a mixture made of misti doi (sweet curd), Khoi (rice flakes), banana and sweets before sunrise. This is considered as the last meal of the day until the wedding rituals are completed.
Jol Saja – On the morning of the wedding day, mother of the bride and groom accompanied by women of the family visit the nearest water body to fill a brass pitcher. Incase the river Ganges is the said water body, a part of the ritual involves inviting Goddess Ganga before the wedding. This water is used to bathe the bride or groom after their Gaye Holud ceremony.
Nanhi Mukh – The father or another senior male relative of both the bride and groom perform this ritual in their respective homes. Hymns are chanted and offerings are made to the past seven generations of paternal ancestors to appease their souls and seek their blessings.
Gaye Holud and Tattwa – A turmeric paste made from grinding fresh turmeric with mustard oil is applied on the groom’s body by his mother and other married female relatives (Eyostree). He is then bathed with the water procured in the morning. The remaining turmeric paste is put in a silver bowl and sent to the bride’s place along with Tattwa. The Tattwa comprises of her entire trousseau, sweets, snacks and the biggest fish (mostly Rohu). The Gaye Holud is then performed at the bride’s place in a similar fashion.
The Bengali groom typically wears a Kurta, which is known as Punjabi with a Dhoti. The Punjabi features gold studded buttons. He wears a conical head adornment known as the ‘Topor’ made of Shola or Indian Cork. Before the commencement of the wedding he changes into fine silk two piece attire known as the ‘Jor’. The groom carries a round brass object with long handle known as the ‘Darpan’ at all times.
The bride usually wears a Red Benarasi Saree made of silk , heavily embroidered with gold zari threads. She wears a veil (orna) to cover her head and jewellery. Her forehead is adorned with sandalwood paste centring on a big red bindi. She wears a head adornment known as Mukut. She carries an ornate wooden container filled with sindoor and a one rupee coin known as the ‘Gachh Kouto’.
Bor Jatri and Boron–The groom (Bor) starts from his house after receiving his mother’s blessings. He is taken in a specially decorated car sent by the bride’s family. As per tradition, the grooms mother doesn’t attend the wedding. Friends and relatives accompanying the groom are known as Bor Jatri with the seniormost member known as Borkorta and the juniormost as NeetBor.
The groom and the Bor Jatri are received at the venue by blowing of conch shells and ululations. The mother of the bride welcomes the groom with a Boron Dala, a large cane tray containing auspicious ingredients like rice, turmeric, betel nuts, bunch of banana and a lighted diya and feeds him sweets.
Saat Paak and Subho Drishti– The groom is brought into the wedding mandap known as Chhadnatolla and an initial puja is performed along with the person who does the Kanya Sampradan. The bride is seated in a wooden platform known as piri carried by 4-5 young male members of her family with her face hidden by a couple of betel leaves. The bride is circled around the groom seven times on the piri and this is known as Saat Paak. The bride removes the betel leaves and the two set their eyes on each other completing the step of Subho Drishti.
Mala Badal– The couple then exchange their garland in a ritual known as Mala Bodol.
Sampradan– An elderly male member of the bride’s family unite the couples hands in chhadnatola by a sacred thread and through the mantras the bride is officially given away to the groom.
Hom– The bride and the groom sit beside each other in front of the sacred fire while the priest utters mantras.
Saptapadi– The priest ties a knot between the end of the bride’s saree and the grooms shawl (gat bandhan). The couple goes around the fire seven times uttering the seven sacred vows.
Kusumringe/ Baashi Biye – The bride’s brother puts khoi (rice flakes) in her hands while the groom joins her hands from behind and together they pour the offering into the fire. (For a few families, this ritual happens the next morning after wedding and is known as Bashi Biye)
Sindoor Daan– The groom applies Sindoor on the parting of bride’s hair and he covers her head with a new saree known as the Lajjabastra. Next is an elaborate dining spread for the invitees called Preetibhoj.
Basar Ghar – Post completion of the wedding, the bride and groom along with their friends and family spend the night amidst laughter, music and non-stop chatter.
Bidaai– Bidaai refers to the emotional departure of the couple from the bride’s place. The bride throws a handful of rice over her shoulder into her mother’s outstretched hands.
Bodhu Baran– The bride is welcomed into her in-laws’ place. Water is poured under the vehicle, a vessel containing milk and lac dye is placed outside the door and the bride steps onto it. The imprint of her feet is captured on a white fabric. In some families, she is made to hold a live fish considered as an auspicious item. The next ritual is seeking blessings of elders generally accompanied with gifts and jewellery.
Kaal Ratri– That same night the couple are not allowed to meet each other and are put up in separate rooms as Kaal ratri is considered as the very night when Behula’s husband was bitten by a serpent, as stated in the Manasamangal Kavya
Bou Bhaat – The next morning, the bride is welcomed to the new family through the Bou Bhaat ritual. The husband presents his wife with clothes and food on a plate with the assurance to take care of her needs for the rest of their lives through Bhaat Kapor. The bride serves rice and ghee to the family members during the meal time.
Reception – The groom’s family hosts a reception in the evening where guests are invited to meet the new bride. The bride’s family members referred to as ‘Konyajatri’ attend the reception with Tattwa for the grooms family. This is followed by a gala feast called Preetibhoj.
Phul Sojja – The couple’s bedroom is decorated with colourful flowers as they get to spend their first night together.
Diragaman/Astamangala/SubhoChani Satyanarayan Pujo – On the eighth day of the wedding the couple returns to the brides place. A Satyanarayan puja is performed and the thread tied during the wedding is removed by the priest.
The personal angle –
The entire piece (including the pictures) has been mostly derived from my own wedding. While few rituals like Sampradan, Bhaat Kapor and the mandatory absence of the mother of the groom from the wedding are regressive in nature and highlights the patriarchal bent of mind, there’s no denying the fact that Bengali weddings are also colourful, joyful and fun-filled affair.