Bengalis are a distinct linguistic community originating from the eastern part of India and the neighboring country of Bangladesh. The wedding traditions of Bengalis may have some differences according to caste, religion and region but essentially all Hindu Bengali weddings are marked by certain common customs.
Like in traditional cultures, Bengalis too originally followed the system of arranged marriages. The ball was set rolling with a custom known as aadan-prodaan literally meaning ‘give and take’. This involved the matching of ancestral lines under the supervision of the purohit or priest. The purpose was to ensure that the marriage did not take place between close relatives or persons having the same gotra or within the same kin-group. Once the match was arranged, a ritual known as the paaka-kotha or ‘final talks’ was observed. On this occasion the families of the prospective groom and bride would meet as a way of cementing the union and relatives on both sides are introduced to each other.
Bengali weddings usually do not have an engagement ceremony where the prospective bride and groom exchange rings. Rather among Bengalis, the two families visit each other’s house bearing gifts and the elders take turns to bless the bride and groom. Interestingly here, the young couple never comes face to face with each other despite a lot of feasting and merry-making going around.
Bengali pre-wedding rituals
The wedding ceremonies can be considered to begin with Vriddhi on the day before the wedding. This involves a Puja performed at the respective houses of the bride and groom for the family’s ancestors. The family priest brings an idol of Bhagwan Narayan to the puja which is worshipped by with incense sticks and oil lamps. Yet another occasion at the bride/groom’s home is the Ai Budo Bhaat which translates as a meal for the unmarried. This is a joyous occasion where friends, cousins and younger members of the family get together with the prospective bride/groom who is fed a lavish meal for the last time as a single person.
Early in the morning of the wedding day, a ritual known as the Dodhi Mangal is performed at the house of both the bride and of the groom. Several married women head for a nearby pond and bring back a pitcher of water with which the bride and groom would later perform their ritual bath. The married women then offer food to the bride/groom consisting of curd, puffed rice and sweet which is supposed to be consumed before dawn since for the entire wedding day both will have to observe a fast.
The arrival of the Gae halud tattva or gifts for the turmeric ceremony marks the next stage of pre-wedding customs. This set of gifts is sent by the groom’s family and usually consists of saris, cosmetics, accessories and jewelry for the bride together with symbols of good fortune like fish, assorted sweets, curd, betel-leaf or paan, paddy stalks or ‘dhaan’ and ‘durba’ or holy grass. After the bride is dressed in one of the saris, a paste of turmeric is applied to her limbs and face as part of the cleansing and beautification process. Then follows the ritual bath after which she changes into another sari. The same ritual is also performed for the groom at his house.
An important part of the decking up of a Bengali bride is Sankha Porano or the wearing of the white conch shell bangles accompanied with Pola or red bangles. For the wedding, Bengali brides usually don a Benarasi silk sari woven with gold threads and in a shade of red which symbolizes a long marital life and fertility. Other characteristic decorations of a Bengali bride are intricate sandalwood paste patterns on her forehead as well as accessories like a gaach kouto or a blade of grass and kaajal laata or a container of collyrium, mukut or tiara and a red veil.
Bengali wedding customs
The actual wedding ceremony can be considered to begin with the arrival of the groom at the bride’s house. Here a ceremonial welcome of the groom or Bor Boron is performed by the bride’s mother after which, he is offered sweets and sherbet.
The next significant ritual is shubho drishti where the bride and groom are brought together under an auspicious canopy and they exchange glances supposedly for the first time. This is followed by the maala bodol wherein the two exchange flower garlands. Next the bride and groom are seated next to each other before the sacred fire and the priest recites holy chants which detail the essence of marriage and duties of each according to Vedic scriptures. During this time the ritual known as Sampradaan is observed which entails the giving away of the bride by the father or any other male relative.
Other important rituals of Hindu wedding then follow like the circling of the bride and groom around the sacred fire, taking of seven steps together or ‘Saptapadi’ and then the offering of rice to the sacred fire. During this time the groom smears vermillion or sindoor on the bride’s hair parting and this marks a definitive moment of the wedding.
Bengali post-wedding rituals
The most enjoyable of post-wedding customs is the basor raat where the siblings, cousins and friends gather around the newlyweds and tease them. There is usually a lot of music, songs, jokes and merry making all around. The next morning some Bengali families observe Baashi biye where the groom once again adorns the forehead of his bride with vermillion but this time by looking into a mirror.
Next the bride is given an emotional farewell by her parental family and then she leaves for her husband’s home. Upon arriving, the bride is ceremonially welcomed by her mother in law and other members of the new family. A distinctive ritual of Bengalis is the offering of saris and food by the groom to his bride with promise that he will always look after her material needs. The bride then symbolically cooks rice for the entire family and serves lunch to each member – this is known as ‘bou bhaat’.
The bridal night or Phool Sojja is held on the second night of the wedding. This is preceded by the arrival of gifts from the bride’s family known as Phool Sojja Tatta. This is also the night when the bridal bed is decorated with flowers and the marital union consummated.
In the earlier times, the Bou bhaat was the main feast hosted by the groom’s family but modern Bengali families may even have a separate wedding reception hosted by the groom’s side. Here members of the bride’s family arrive as guests as do many friends and acquaintances of the newlyweds. Everyone joins in wishing the couple good fortune for life amidst traditional feasting and merrymaking.