Zoroastrianism considers marriage as a pious duty, a religious sacrament and a holy union of two people. It is not just a social, legal or contractual bond. The institution of marriage is based on the virtues of trust, sharing, devotion, faithfulness and self sacrifice. It is incumbent on all able-bodied Zoroastrians to marry, establish a family and have children.
The Zoroastrian ideal of marriage is enshrined in Gatha Vahishtoishti (Yasna Hā 53), which is regarded as ‘a wedding hymn.’ The fifth stanza of this chapter states:
Ahum ye vangheush manangho, ashā ve anyo ainim.
Vivanghato tat zi hoi hushenem anghat. (Gatha Vahishtoishti –Yasna Hā 53.5),
“(O ye bride and bride-groom) Strive to secure the life of good thoughts. With righteousness keep on loving each other, so that you may both have a happy family life.”
The Zoroastrian marriage benedictions are full of good wishes, blessings and advise for the bride and the groom, like the following:
Har do taan ramashne awazun baad,
Pa naam o yaari-e ahurmazd,
Hamishe khorehmand bed,
Vakshsashne mand bed,
Ashahi amuzashnedar bed,
Beh-varzashne sajaavar bed.
“May both of you have a joyful life of progress,
May you always have the companionship of Ahura Mazda,
May you always be full of divine energy,
May you be full of good gifts,
May you be full of prosperity,
May you be full of success,
May you be always guided by righteousness,
May you always be willing to perform good deeds.”
Zoroastrian texts like the Gathas, Videvdād and Dādistān i Mēnōg i Khrad clearly show the preference of a married life over an unmarried life. Other Pahlavi and Persian works also echo these sentiments.
Zoroastrian marriages are generally solemnized after sunset, as the ancestors of Zoroastrians, when they came from Iran to India about 1200 years ago, had given an assurance to the Hindu King Jadav Rana to have marriages after sun-set. However, marriages can also be solemnized in the morning.
There is a difference between the marriage ceremony performed by the Kadimi and the Iranis and those performed by the Shahenshahis. After coming to India, and till recent times, the marriage benedictions among the Shahenshahis were recited in Pazand as well as Sanskrit languages. Nowadays the Sanskrit benedictions are rarely recited.
The Shahenshahi marriage ceremony can be divided into the following parts:
- a) The Nahān “the sacred bath”: The Zoroastrian marriage ritual commences by the giving the Zoroastrian bride and the groom are given a Nahan (purificatory bath) on the day of marriage. If the groom is a priest he is not expected to take the Nahan.
- b) Proceeding to the stage: After the Nahan, the bride and groom dress up in their finery. After the dressing up, the bride and the groom are made to sit near the place where the wedding ritual is to be performed. During this time the parents and elders of the bride and groom should complete the formalities of exchanging Shawls, watches, jewelery 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 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, a senior lady from the bride’s family does the acchu michhu. The groom sits on a chair on the stage facing the east. The witnesses hold a white piece of cloth (either a picchodi or a sari) before the groom for the ārā-antar.
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 ovarnā of the bride, takes her on the stage and makes her sit opposite the groom.
- c) Ārāntar: The bride and the groom sit facing each other, separated by a white cloth of ārā-antar, which is a symbolic separation between the bride and groom. The officiating priest makes them hold their right hands (as in a shake-hand) from below the ārā-antar Rice grains are given in their left hands and then the officiating priests commence the chori sārvāno ritual.
The senior priest recites Ba nāme yazade bakhsāyandeh bakshshāyazgar meherbān and starts reciting a Yathā ahu vairyo. He holds a ball of cotton thread (Guj. Sutar) in his hand which he passes around 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 side. Seven such rounds are taken with the cotton thread, when each priest recites seven Yathā ahu vairyo. In all 14 Yathā ahu vairyo are recited. 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, which is symbolic of the union of the bride and groom.
Now the two are 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 groom’s family’s prerogative to select the priests to perform the wedding. The senior of the two priests stands facing the groom.
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.
- c) Sacred Affirmation: This part is the pledging of acceptance before the priests by the parents, witnesses, bride and groom.
The senior priest starts the initial part (Guj. Mandān) of the Marriage Prayers. Sometimes both priests recite this part together. A mixture of rice grains, coconut shreds, pomegranate seeds and rose petals are showered on the couple. All these items are significant as 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.
In this part of the Ashirwad, 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. The three successively answer in the affirmative. This part of the ritual is repeated thrice.
- d) Āshirwād: The prayers for Zoroastrian marriage ritual are referred to as Ashirwad as in this ritual two priests recite in unison prayers of ashirwad “blessings” and admonitions for the marrying couple while showering rice grains etc. over them. Further in the prayers, Airyaman Yazad, who presides over marriage, joy, peace, friendship and nobility (qualities necessary for a successful marriage), is invoked in these prayers. This is followed by an Afrin and a special Tandarosti prayer. After the Ashirwad, the family members of the bride and groom present the Shawls, garlands and cash gifts to the priests.
After the Ashirwad, the newly wedded couple go to a nearby fire-temple, and on their return, are greeted by the guests.
Some pre-marriage customs, which are pre-dominantly done by ladies of the house. customs.
- Rupiya pahervanu. When a boy and girl decide to go together the parents have a short irual to give an official stamp to their being together. First the parents of the boys go to the girls house and present her money. Then the girl’s parents go to the boy’s house and present him money.
- Adravvanu / engagement/exchange of clothes and ring: 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 / chocolate in the shape of a fish) and sakar is kept. Both families do this ses. Then the two families meet generally at the girls house and the boy and girl exchange rings. The boy has dinner at the girl’s place.
- Adarni: The girl’s family take gifts to the boy (rit, a sort of dowry).
Customs for the four day celebrations before marriage 4 days prior to marriage:
Day 1: mandavsaro- in both the houses the family plants a green mango twig in a pot or in the garden symbolic of a new “tree” in the family. It is done generally in the mornings. Along with it a 2-3 gold and silver tilis are kept. It is done by a Mobed or a relative preferably mama who wears a red turban. While saying 7 yatha and with the help of 4 married woman an already planted twig is symbolically further planted.
On this day the making of mandav/mandap i.e. shamiana also starts.
The Suprani rit “the custom of Supra” is done on this day when 4 new supras are taken and four married women symbolically use them with rice, wheat adad, sopari, kharek. Sakar, adad gathya and coconut piece in it. Then four ladies take adad gathya in a mortar and make powder of it, mixes it with water and then apply it to boy and girl.
Day 2: Ram Yazad baj / Varadhpatar baj in Agyari in memory of departed one.
Day 3: khichdi no divas. Ukardi Kukardi game. A light day before the main festivity of marriage
Day 4: Marriage in evening. It maybe repeated before the following day sunrise. It could also be done on the morning of the same day.
After marriage: feet washing custom by the wife’s sister. Then sometimes the shoe was hidden and a small ransom asked for to return the shoe.
5 types of marriages in ancient Iran:
- Patakshahi: Regular marriage with parents consent.
- Khud-sarae: marriage with Self chosen partner. The girl loses some of the rights of her parent’s home.
- Chakar: Marriage of a widow or widower
- Aevakin: Where the girl was given in marriage provided her husband agrees to give the first child to his father in law who had no other issues.
- Sutur: Marriage with a deceased person / a childless person/ a person unable to bear a child first then with a husband, and to give the first child to the family of the deceased husband.