For Muslims in Bangladesh, a wedding is one of the most important and special rituals of life. Once the dates for the week-long celebration are set, and wedding planning is in full swing, the families of the bride and groom decorate their respective homes with flowers and elaborate lighting to let all passersby know a wedding is happening. Lavish invitation cards are printed and sent out, stage decorations are chosen, and a delicious menu is decided on.
A common tradition is for the groom’s family to purchase all wedding attire, accessories, and cosmetics for the bride and vice versa – this is symbolic of the joining of two families. The night before the first event, everything, plus lots of sweets and fruits, is packed up in a suitcase and decorative trays and sent over to each other’s homes.
Here’s a quick fun fact: weddings are more frequent during the winter season in Bangladesh. This tradition historically comes from agricultural practices. Rice fields are harvested in the winter and once they’re harvested, farmers have a month or so of time off. With this fresh rice, families make pitha (sweets and pastries of various kinds), which are an important part of all weddings. Weddings were thus scheduled to be during this off-season for farmers and the practice continues in urban areas, also due to the fact that the weather is pleasant, and schools are closed.
This is a pre-wedding event with the purpose of beautifying the bride and groom with holud (turmeric). Usually only family and close friends attend this event. This is everyone’s favorite part of the wedding celebrations because this is when we party. Dancing, singing, and performances of all kind happen at the Gaye Holud. Guests take turns rubbing turmeric on the faces of the bride and groom on stage and feed them sweets or fruits. Both families bring beautifully decorated trays of food, betel leaves, nuts, and decorative items.
Sometimes, the bride and groom have two separate Gaye Holud events. For the bride’s event, the groom’s family and friends, all except for the groom, attend and vice versa. However, nowadays, it is more common to have one Gaye Holud for both the bride and groom.
Akth (Also referred to as the “Niqah”)
This is the wedding ceremony. It can be conducted in the bride’s home, a mosque, the wedding venue, or another venue of the bride’s family’s choosing. The ceremony is conducted by a kazi who first reads specific Qur’anic verses to begin the service. At this point, the bride and groom are surrounded by their closest family members. The kazi then asks the bride and groom each three times, “Do you consent to this marriage? If you consent, say ‘Qubool.’” The bride and groom each must say ‘Qubool’ (the equivalence of “I do”) each time, loud enough for surrounding witnesses to hear. After this, the mahr is decided upon. The mahr is a form of payment given to the bride; it can be a large amount of money, fine jewelry, furniture, dwelling, land, etc. This will forever solely belong to the bride and she may use it in any way she wishes.
This program is a celebration of the wedding ceremony; it is not a reception. Hundreds of people are invited to this event, and the venue is extravagantly decorated with a separate stage for the bride and groom, now officially husband and wife, to sit and be ogled by guests. The ambiance is meant to be enchanting and regal.
The bride and her family arrive at the venue first and set up a barricade of people and ribbon at the entrance so the groom and groom’s family can’t enter. The groom is required to pay the amount of money the bride’s family asks for in order to enter the venue, and the two families spend several minutes bartering over the price.
Sometimes, after the groom is seated next to the bride, younger members of the bride’s family try to steal his shoes in order to sell them back to the groom later. Another fun part of this program is that this is when the rusmat ceremony is held. The bride and groom are draped with a dupatta over their heads and look at each other in a mirror held in front of them. The bride and groom are then asked to describe to the very large audience what they see in the mirror, and the answers are always sweet. It is followed by the bride and groom feeding each other sweets, and taking turns putting flower garlands on each other.
The rest of this program is about eating and enjoying the company of all the guests. The ending of the Biye is always a gut-wrenching event, as it is time for the bride to go home with her groom for the first time, leaving her family behind. There’s a lot of crying and sobbing on everyone’s part, and the bride and groom are led outside to a decorated vehicle to take them home together. These days, many people use cars and limos for this purpose, but boats, horse carriages, cow carriages, and even rickshaws may be used depending on the location and financial status of the families. Some members of the bride’s family go with her to make sure she reaches her new home safely. Once home, there’s more barricading of the entrance – you must make sure to be carrying lots of cash with you at Bangladeshi weddings.
Literally translated to “bride rice,” this is essentially the reception put on by the groom’s family and decorated similarly to the Biye. Again, hundreds of people are invited, and more eating, more dressing up, and more celebrating happens at this event traditionally set to happen one to two days after the Biye. This marks the end of the wedding festivities and the beginning of the happily ever after.
While this is the basic structure of a Muslim Bangladeshi wedding, practices vary all over Bangladesh. Different districts may have slightly different practices, some parts of the celebrations can be excluded entirely, like the Gaye Holud, and recently, henna parties for the bride have been trending. The only major requirement in a Muslim Bangladeshi wedding is the Akth – the rest are purely cultural traditions to celebrate the momentous occasion that is a wedding. I love the wedding traditions in my culture, and the ones I’ve gotten to attend specifically in Bangladesh have led me to have some of the most fun I’ve ever had. I will say, however, it is much more fun being a guest than being the bride or groom (as my husband and I can attest to).
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