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Parsi communities in India are immigrants from Central Asia, especially Persia. Most of them are settled in coastal areas of the western India like Goa, Gujarat and Mumbai between 8th and 10thcentury. Parsis are predominantly Zoroastrians, i.e. followers of Zoroaster, or Zarathustra, one of the oldest monotheistic religions in the world. Such a long history of Parsis in India, and yet they have successfully preserved their culture and traditions. At the same time they have picked up certain local customs which have been incorporated into their wedding rituals. On the whole, Parsi weddings are an interesting mixture of cultures. The weddings itself is an elaborate and tradition-laden affair spanning for several days. Weddings within the Parsi community are known as ‘Lagan’ and they take place at the Parsi Agyari or Fire Temple. To have a better idea about the whole wedding celebration, let’s take a look at their various customs.
Rupia Peravanu – This ritual refers to the informal engagement between the bride and groom and the first formal interaction between the two families. After the couple intending to get married informs their parents and if the parents provide no objection to the union, the Rupia Peravanu ceremony is arranged. Women from the groom’s side visit the bride’s home with a bagful of rupia or coins. As a welcoming gesture, the bride’s home is decorated with decorative torans and chalk designs called chuna or rangoli.The groom’s party carries with them gifts for the bride. The same ritual is repeated by the bride’s side by visiting the groom’s house with gifts.
Achoo Michoo – Achoo Michoo is a typical Parsi custom of warding off the evil eye that is essentially performed before every wedding ritual. On a thali or ses is placed a coconut, betel leaves and betel nuts, a raw egg, a small bowl of rice, a glass of water and some nuts. The bride’s mother performs the ritual after she meets them at the door. First she makes seven rounds with the egg and breaks it on the right side of the groom’s mother. She repeats the seven rounds with the betel leaves, betel nut, nuts, bowl of rice, all taken together and then throw them behind the house. Nest the ritual is done with coconut. Finally the rice and water is put together in little quantities and the seven circles are repeated but the rice water mixture is poured on both the left and right side of the entrance. The guests then cross the threshold with their right foot first.
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Devo – During this ritual, an oil lamp is lit after the groom’s mother puts in a silver coin in it. The bride steps into her designated spot with her right foot first and her would be mother-in-law performs achoomichoo ritual and presents her with a red saree and a set of bangles. The bride is then helped by the female members of her family into changing into the red saree. She comes back to her would-be mother in law who helps her put on the bangles. In Parsi culture this is equivalent to exchange of rings.
Sagan – For the next even, the groom joins the bride on the stage. Their mothers and elder female relatives from both families perform the sagan ritual. A coconut is placed on the couple’s hands and a garland is tied around their necks. The women dip their thumbs into a bowl of liquid vermillion or kumkum and touch the couple’s shoes. With the kumkum they make a round mark on the bride’s and a vertical mark on the groom’s forehead respectively. The couple is then fed sugar-cubs dipped in yoghurt.
Madhav Saro – Both the families plant a tree in a pot and it is kept beside the main entrances of the two houses. The pot is painstakingly painted by the family members and a ritual similar to achoomichoo is performed with it before it’s put in use. Throughout the duration of the wedding, the potted plant is kept there and is watered every day. After completion of the wedding it is removed from the entrance and planted elsewhere.
Varadh-Patra – This is the remembrance prayers offered by the two families to their respective ancestors.
Adrani – This ritual takes place three days prior to the wedding day. The groom’s family visits the bride and presents her with additional gifts of clothes, jewelry, cash, sweets etc. The groom’s family is treated to lavish food by the bride’s side which typically includessev and dahi, boiled egg and bananas.
Supra nu Murat – This is the Parsi equivalent of a Haldi ceremony and is quite possibly an adopted ritual. Five married women take part in this ceremony. One of them sits in the middle surrounded by four others and she makes a paste of turmeric and milk with a traditional mortar and pestle called Khalbatto. They exchange a special bundle containing, betel leaf, betel nut, turmeric, dates and a piece of coconut, known as supra, between them seven times. The five pound the turmeric paste together. This is then applied to the bride/groom by their family members amidst a shower of blessings.
Nahan – The bride and the groom both perform a ritualistic bathing vceremony aimed at purifying their body and soul. After this ceremony the bride or the groom is prohibited to toch anyone outside their family. They then get ready for the wedding ceremony.
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The Parsi groom wears a light white cotton short kurta over which he dons the typical white overcoat known as Dhugli. With that he wears a loose white cotton pants. It is customary for a Parsi groom to wear a black elongated hat known as Fetah(if it has a flat top) or Paghudi (if it has pointed ends). She carries a white or off white shawl on his shoulders. He may or may not wear jewelry like gold chain around his neck. He wears black formal shoes with the whole outfit.
The Parsi bride wears a white silk or chiffon saree that is heavily embroidered with white thread. This typical saree is often known as ParsiGara. The bride pairs the saree with a white blouse and drapes it in typical Parsi fashion. She has to cover her head with one end of the sareeduring the wedding rituals. Apart from the red bangles given to her by her mother-in-law, the TheParsi bride does not wear a lot of heavy gold jewelry. The jewelry that she wears is often family heirlooms and consists of a necklace, a pair of earring and some basic bangles.
Arrival of the couple – Predominant colors of a Zoroastrian culture is white and red, representing purity and honesty. The wedding takes place in either a baug, or garden adjacent to an Agiyari or Fire temple. A raised platform is constructed and is decorated with torans, red and white flowers and white cloths. The groom is escorted to the stage by his father and two female relatives who carry between them the Ses or Plate tha contains the materials for the Achoo Michoo ritual. The bride holds her father’s hands when she enters the wedding venue followed by her female relatives carrying the bride’s side Achoo Michoo Ses. The bride and the groom are made to sit on adjacent chairs.
Achoo Michoo – Before the beginning of all the wedding rituals, achoo michoo ritual is performed by both the groom’s side and the bride’s side. This ritual is performed to ward off any evil spirit or evil vibes directed towards the bride and groom. The bride’s mother performs achoo micho on the groom and the groom’s mother does the same for the bride. The groom’s mother then applies a dot of kumkum on the bride’s forehead and hands her a thick floral garland. The bride’s mother applies a vertical tilak of kumkum on the groom’s forehead and hands him his garland. Putting on the garland by both the bride and the groom is called aarti.
Var Behendoo – After completion of the Achoo Michoo ritual the groom goes up to the wedding stage and sits down on the left chair facing the audiences. He is presented with a water pot or chambooru which is part of his dowry. The groom dips his hand into the water and drops a silver coin into the water-filled pot. This ceremony is knowns as Var Behendoo. The bride is then escorted onto the wedding stage by her female relatives. Her chair is now places facing the groom and she sits on it. Trays of rice are placed on either side of the couple and are to be thrown while they recite their vows. Zoroastrians being Fire Worshippers, candles are also placed on either side of the couple.
Ara Antar – As the bride is seated opposite of the groom, two of their family members holds up a thick sheet between the bride and the groom preventing them from laying eyes on each other. The sheet extends beyond the bride and groom’s knees. This ritual of symbolic separation is known as Ara Antar.
Haathevaro and Chero Bandhvanu– The whole wedding ceremony is officiated by two priests. The priests place little bit of rice on the couple’s outstretched hands. The right hand of the bride is then placed on top of the groom’s right hands and this is done through the bottom edge of the Ara Antar curtain. This joining of the wo hands of the bride and the groom is known as Haathevaro. A string is wrapped around the joined hands seven times. The priests recite the Ahunavar or the Yatha Ahu Vairyo prayer while wrapping the string around the couple’s hands. The couple’s hands remain in a handshake position and this ritual is known as Chero Bandhvanu. As the priest recites the seventh and final Ahunavar, the curtain of the Ara Antar is dropped and the couple competes with each other in throwing handfuls of rice they had in their left hands at each other. The one who throws the rice first is believed to be the one who will wear the pants in the family.
Marriage Ceremony – While the Araantar ceremony unites the couple as a physical, worldly family, the marriage ceremony will ensure their spiritual union. If the Ara Antar was a fun-filled, light ceremony, the actual wedding is a serious and solemn affair. The main stages of the Parsi Wedding ceremony are outlined as follows.
Lighting the Spiritual flame – The couple sit beside each other; the groom is seated on the right side of the bride. The two priests stand in front of them and the couple is flanked by two witnesses, preferably married males members of the family. The very first thing the couple does is to acknowledge their spiritual union by lighting an oil lamp or candle jointly. The flame of the lap or candle signifies the couple’s spiritual union. The flame should continue to burn until the wedding ceremony is over and the guests have departed.
Payvand-e-Zanshooi – in Persian, the word Payvand-e-Zanshooi essentially comes to mean joining or connecting through matrimony. The couple utters the Payman or vows of Payvand-e-Zanshooi during the Payvandnameh or wedding service. The whole wedding service is conducted in Persian and may take up to about an hour. The two priests utter the vows and the bride and groom repeats after them. The couple is showered with rose petals by the gathering of guests. The priests advice the couple to lead a blessed life of honesty, mutual respect and unhindered support. They ask the couple to cherish family and friends as much as they cherish each other. They are asked to forgo negative habits like jealousy, quarrelsome nature, anger and deceit. At the end of the advices, the priests perform a prayer for the couple wishing them good health (Tandrosti) and blessings (Ashirwad). The couple is then asked by the priest in Persian three times, whether they wish to marry this man/woman and the couple has to say "PasandeKardum". The couple exchange wedding rings after completion of the sermon and they are now considered married.
Post Wedding Rituals
Haath Borvanu – This is the customary hand cleansing rituals for the groom. The groom’s hand is placed inside a water pot by the bride’s sister and is kept their forcefully until the groom drops a silver coin in the water as a gift to her.
Pag Dhovanu – The groom is threatened by the bride’s sister-in-law with hot milk to be spilled on his shoes and he has to appease her with cash gift. If the sting from the Hathevaro ritual is still there, then the groom must pay additional cash gifts to the sister-in-law to get her to untie it.
Visit to the Fire Temple – Immediately after the wedding, some Parsi couple chooses to visit a Fire temple to seek the Almighty’s blessings. The oil lamp or candle lit by the couple jointly in an earlier ceremony is to be kept lit throughout the marriage ceremony. On completion of the marriage, if the flame needs to be put out, then instead of simply blowing it off (considered an ill-omen among Parsis), it is done my moving a rose flower above it.
Reception – A grand reception with delectable Parsi food is held right after the wedding ceremony is over. Some of the all-time favorite festive Parsi food items are alima-murgh or sali-na-gosht (chicken or mutton and potato straws), pulao-dal (rice and lentils), and patra-ni-machhi (fish wrapped in gourd leaves).The bride and groom are served food on a single plate and they are to eat from it together, a custom known as dahikoomron. Before and after the meal the guest are provided the opportunity to have fun by dancing and making merry.