1. Though the marriage ceremony is a sacred and exalted religious ritual, the customs and festivities prior to the marriage ritual are socio-religious in nature, and are meant to increase the bonding and camaraderie among families. It is also meant to keep the guests involved when they are invited for the marriage. These customs are not as sacrosanct as religious rituals. These customs may be done a few days or months before the marriage. They are pre-dominantly done by ladies of the house.
2. There is a difference between the marriage ceremony performed by the Kadimis, Iranis and Shahenshahi Parsis sects. Here we will look at the Shahenshahi marriage. To understand the topic at hand, we will divided it into three parts: A. Pre-marriage customs, B. Customs 4 day prior to marriage; C. Marriage ritual proper.
A. Pre-marriage customs:
1. Rupyā paherāvānu / Nām pādvvānu “betrothal”: This is the first pre-wedding custom, which could be done days, months or even years before the wedding. Once the couple desirous of marriage informs their parents about their decision, the parents whet their decision from their view-point before giving their consent. This may also involve the matching of horoscopes. Once the parents agree to the match and allow the couple to move about together, the Rupya Pehrāvānu is performed to mark the official coming together of the two individuals and two families.
It is a simple exchange of monetary gifts (rupyā) among members of the family. It is done in the morning, first at the girl’s house and then at the boy’s house. In the past a silver coin was gifted to the bride and the groom in a brocaded bag. The home is decorated, as it is usually done for auspicious occasions with chalk designs and floral garlands. Generally the women of the house are involved in this ceremony. A girl’s name can be connected with the boy’s name in rituals after betrothal, even if marriage is not performed for some reason. The significance of this ceremony is that now the couple to be, are officially and formally allowed to move about together in public and private.
2. Adrāvvu “engagement”: It is the exchange of clothes and gifts, which, in the past, also included furniture and utensils between the two families. The ladies of the house go to each other’s house and exchange clothes. In a special Ses, called the dahi machli ni ses, curd, fish (fresh fish or sweet meat or chocolate in the shape of a fish), horoscope (tapko) and rock sugar (sākar) is kept. Both families prepare this ses. Then the two families meet at the girl’s house and the boy and girl exchange rings. The boy has dinner at the girl’s place.
This custom could be done much prior to tshe marriage or even during the four day marriage festivities. This is a more formal bonding between the two families as it also involves exchange of clothes and gifts
3. Divo Ādarni: The bride’s family takes gifts to the groom’s house. These gifts are referred to as rit in Gujarati. It may be considered a sort of voluntary dowry. This ceremony too may be done any time before the marriage, but if not done before, they may be done during the four days festivities preceding marriage.
B. Celebrations four days prior to marriage:
1. First Day : Māndav-saro / māndav-muhrat: Māndav means “pandal, shamiana” which was generally erected in villages to accommodate guests for festivities. This ceremony is done in the houses of the bride-to-be as well as the groom-to-be. The family plants a fresh mango twig in the garden or in a flower-pot near the door, while saying 7 Yatha ahu vairyos and with the help of 4 married woman. Along with the twig, two to three gold and silver plated sequences (tilis) are also kept in the ground/pot. It is done in the morning, preferably by the māmā (maternal uncle) or any other male relative on the mother’s side, who wears a red turban. It may also be done by a priest.
This ceremony is symbolic of having a new “tree” in the family. The significance of this custom is to mark the beginning (saro) of making of māndav, that is, a pandal or shamiana, for receiving the guests for the wedding which is to take place after three days.
The Suprāni rit “the custom of Suprā” is also done on the first day, when 4 new suprās (a flat rectangular plate of mat open at one end for winnowing wheat etc.) are taken and four married women (G. sohāsan) symbolically use them with rice, wheat, adad gāthyā (turmeric pieces), sopāri (betel-nut), khārak. Sākar (rock sugar) and coconut piece in it. Then four ladies take adad gāthyā in a mortar and make powder of it, mix it with water and then apply it to the boy and the girl. This is referred to as pithi chorvi. It is done separately at the house of the bride and the groom for each of them.
The significance of this custom is to enhance the skin tone of the couple and make them look more presentable for the big event. Turmeric paste is widely used in India for this purpose.
2. Second Day: On this day the Varadh-pattar ni baj is done at the fire-temple in memory of departed ones, who are symbolically invited and whose blessings are sought for the auspicious event. The word varadh comes from the Gujarati word vruddhi “prosperity.” In the fire temple, Satum is recited on a special sweet-meat called Varadh, along with other eatables like sāryā. It is symbolic of inviting departed ones for the marriage festivities and seeking their blessings. Also a Baj for Ram Yazad is done to seek his blessings, as Ram Yazad presides over marriage union and joy.
In the evening the game of Ukardi is played, wherein the eatable offered in Varadh have to be playfully ‘stolen’ by the family and friends of the bride versus the groom. Generally only youngsters participate in this game. The opposite parties can throw water on the teams so as to discourage them from ‘stealing’ the eatables.
The significance of this custom is to increase the bonding and friendship between the guests, especially the youngsters, so that it may result in more matches resulting into more weddings.
3. Third Day : Khichdi ni rit/ khichdi no divas – This day is a sort of rest day in marriage festivities. Khichdi is prepared for meals as it is light and easy to digest. It is an easy day for rest before the main marriage ritual. Nothing significant is to be done on this day.
4. Fourth Day: In the morning the house is decorated with chalk patterns and floral decorations. The guests who have arrived, and sometimes some professional singers too, sing pleasant traditional songs about marriage, in-laws and how to win the hearts of people in the husband’s home.
Marriage ceremony generally takes place in the evening at the onset of the Aiwisruthrem geh, after sun-set. In olden times it was repeated before the following day sunrise. In present times, some people prefer to have the marriage ceremony in the morning and then again in the evening.
C. Marriage ritual proper
The marriage ceremony among the Shahenshahis can be divided into the following parts:
1) The Nahān “the sacred bath”: The Zoroastrian marriage ritual commences by giving a Nahan (purificatory bath) to the Zoroastrian bride and the groom. This is to cleanse the physical, astral and spiritual body of the bride and the groom and prepare them for the important ritual. If the groom is a priest he is not expected to take the Nahan.
2) Proceeding to the stage: After the Nahan, the bride and groom dress up in their finery. Both wear traditional dress. Groom in dagli and pagdi/fetā, with a shawl in hand (if he is a priest, he wears a jama and pichori) bride in white sari, head covered. Both have mark of kum kum (red vermillion) on their forehead and a garland round their neck.
The bride proceeds towards the place where the wedding is to take place and sits next to the stage. Nobody is supposed to touch her, till the marriage ritual proper commences. Then the groom, after taking the Nahān approaches the place where the main marriage ritual is to take place and sits next to it. The priest makes them fill up the marriage form. During this time the parents and elders of the bride and groom complete the formalities of exchanging shawls, watches, jewelry etc., if necessary.
The witnesses of the bride and the groom have to perform the Padyab kasti. Even the marrying couple have to perform the Padyab kasti once again, since the Nahan was given in the Uziran geh and the Ashirwad ritual is to be done in the Aiwisruthrem geh. The priests also perform the Padyab Kasti, recite the requisite prayers and go on the stage.
The groom is first brought on the stage. Before he ascends the stage, the mother of the bride or any other senior lady from the bride’s family does the ācchu michhu. The significance of this ritual is that it is supposed to ward off evil eye and negative energies. The groom sits on a chair on the stage facing the east. The witnesses hold a white piece of cloth (either a picchodi, that is, waistband of the priest, or a sari) before the groom for the ārā-antar.
Then, the father of the bride or a senior male member of the bride’s family leads her on to the stage. An elder lady from the groom’s family takes the ācchu michhu of the bride, takes her on the stage and makes her sit opposite the groom.
Before starting the marriage ceremony, the couple lights a divo or oil lamp together to signify their union. A Ses with new clothes is kept on the stage. Also kept along with it is the ‘ghia pia kasyo’ which is a small metallic cup with jaggery and ghee, and Akhyānu, that is rice and coconut, both of which are then given as a gift to the priest.
3) Ārāntar: Once the bride and the groom are on the stage, they are made to sit facing each other, separated by a white cloth. They are not allowed to see each other. Rice grains are given in their left hands, and the officiating priest makes them hold their right hands (as in a shake-hand) from below the ārā-antar cloth. Then the senior officiating priests commences the chori sārvāno ritual. In this, he takes a ball of cotton thread (G. sutar) seven times around them while praying Ba nāme yazade bakhsāyandeh bakshshāyazgar meherbān and then seven Yatha ahu vairyos. He passes around the cotton thread around the chairs of the bride and the groom in a clockwise direction. Ladies on the stage, who have their head covered, and their Sarees draped over their head, take the ball of thread in their hands and help in passing it around to the other priest who is standing at the other end. Seven such rounds are taken with the cotton thread, when each priest recites seven Yathā ahu vairyos. In all 14 Yathā ahu vairyo are recited by the two priests. As soon as the recitation of the last Yathā ahu vairyo is over, the bride and the groom throw rice at each other which they were holding in their left hands. There is a popular belief that this is a game of love and whoever is able to throw the rice first wins the game of love. Afterwards the white piece of ārā-antar cloth is removed. The bride and the groom pay homage to the fire which is kept nearby in a small fire-vase on one side of the stage. This concludes the chori sārvāno ritual.
The piece of ārā-antar cloth is symbolic of the separation between the bride and groom before the marriage. Afterwards, when the cloth is removed, it is symbolic of the union of the bride and groom.
4) Āshirwād: “blessings”: This is the main religious part of the marriage ritual. The prayers for Zoroastrian marriage ritual are referred to as Āshirwād as they mainly contain blessings, benedictions and advise for the marrying couple. Now the marrying couple is made to sit next to each other with the groom on the right side of the bride. Whether the marriage ceremony is in the morning or evening, the marrying couple always sits facing the east and the priest always face the west. It is the prerogative of the groom’s family to select the priests to perform the wedding. The senior of the two priests stands facing the groom.
In the Āshirwād, the two officiating priests recite in unison Pazand prayers while showering a mixture of rice grains, coconut shreds, pomegranate seeds and rose petals on the couple. All these items are significant and they carry a meaning. Coconut is a symbol of utility and helpfulness to each other and society, rice is indicative of plenty and prosperity, pomegranate symbolizes fertility and abundance of children, and rose petals indicate fragrance of happiness in married life.
The Āshirwād ritual is divided into two parts. In the first part, questions are asked by the senior priest to the parents, witnesses, bride and groom one after another, about their acceptance, readiness and willingness for the marriage, which they answer in the affirmative. This part is repeated thrice.
In the second part, both the priests recite a Pazand prayer of advice and blessings for the couple. In the later part, Airyaman Yazad, who presides over marriage, joy, peace, friendship and nobility (qualities necessary for a successful marriage) is invoked. Some priests also recite the benedictions in the Sanskrit language. This is followed by an Afrin and a special Tandarosti prayer. After the Āshirwād, the family members of the bride and groom present the Shawls, garlands and cash gifts to the priests. Then, the newly wedded couple go to a nearby fire-temple, and on their return, are greeted by the guests.
There is a custom where one of the sisters of the bride washes the feet of the groom and the groom gives a symbolic token of money to his wife’s sister. Sometimes, the shoe of the groom is hidden, and a small ransom is asked for to return the shoe, by the youngest sister of the bride. This is symbolic of the sister’s accepting their brother in law as an elder of the family, and the sister in law, with her prank establishes herself as a child who needs to be looked after and cared for.
The marriage and pre-marriage customs, ceremonies and rituals are full of meaning and significance and are meant to enhance the importance of the main Marriage ritual for the participants as well as for the guests. The above description is not a detailed description of the customs. Instructions regarding the socio-religious customs are available in details in books written for the purpose by authors like late Ms. Perin Naval Hormasji and late Ms.Banubai Cawasji Driver.