A Parsi wedding is known for its simplicity & commitment to traditions & rituals. Read on to know more about the breathtaking & fun Parsi wedding traditions.
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Blooming hues of red and white set the tone for a Parsi wedding, far away from the flashy and OTT wedding spirit of the grand Indian wedding affair. Steeped in Zoroastrian culture, the simplicity of a Parsi wedding is almost mesmerising.
Image Courtesy: Parinaz Irani
In this piece, we explore how the ‘Lagan’, set in a garden of the fire temple is an interesting bundle of customs, both fun and spiritual. Let these be inspirations for when you plan your wedding.
Pre-Wedding Parsi Traditions
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Though largely austere in the show, a Parsi wedding has multiple ceremonies to make up for them. Even if the couple is engaged already, a formal engagement is hosted by teh families to celebrate the union and the Parsi bride is ideally supposed to wear red. Here is how a couple get hitched the Parsi way.
There are several shops that sell Parsi sarees in Mumbai… most of them are located near Cama Baug, Grant Road. You can also try RTI-the Ratan Tata Institute at Hughes Road (although most of their sarees are hand embroidered and hence very expensive).
Here are a few details…
First up is Coronet. One of the oldest shops in the area. They sell things that are essentially used for Parsi weddings (ses, madhosaro kits, net sadras, wedding sarees) and the Parsi household (torans, asho farohars, night lamps, divos).
What is a gara saree? It is a saree that has white (or light coloured) embroidery on a dark shade saree. The designs are inspired by Chinese motifs. They include cocks, parrots, Chinese men, Chinese houses and bamboos.
There are several other shops that deal with similar items. Most of them sell machine-embroidered gara sarees and white lace wedding sarees. The lace sarees are mostly German lace and French Chantilly. The range of the sarees is from Rs 18K to 40K. Depending on the type of lace, amount of sequins, crystals and beads on the saree, the price increases.
A shop that deals with garas, lace sarees, sadra material and jewellery
They also have a different kind of outfit… something like a jacket kurti that can be worn by those who are not comfortable wearing sarees. Same gara design on it.
Below is a list of shops I visited along with numbers… for those of you who want to call before going.
Well, before you drift into a daydream about Prawn patio and Chicken farcha, let’s talk a bit about rituals in a Parsi wedding – yes that’s where you can have all these delicacies! Now that we have your attention, can we please talk about the adorable madness – that is a Parsi wedding?
Like other weddings in India, Parsi weddings too have different rituals, signifying different things. There are quite a few rituals which are unique to their culture and must be seen to be understood. We bring to you the top 5 things in a Parsi wedding ceremony that you absolutely must not miss!
Photo Credit: Bahrain Zoroastrians
This is more of a pre-wedding ritual but is an important step that leads to the main event! Once the couple informs their parents about their decision, the parents sit down to discuss the prospect. Once the wedding is finalized, Rupia Peravanu is performed to mark the official coming together of the two families. It may be considered as a modern day engagement and is carried out at the bride-to-be’s home. The groom’s side visit the home of the would-be bride and bless the bride with silver coins (hence the word Rupia) in a brocaded bag. The home is decorated with chalk designs and garlands (made of flowers of knitted with wool) and it is generally the women who engage in this ceremony.
ACHU MICHU RITUAL
Photo Credit: Aaron Courter
This is performed almost before every ritual and is believed to ward off evil eye. They also perform nahan to cleanse the person physically and spiritually. Achu Michu is once again performed when the bride and groom reach the venue. Their mothers perform this ritual by applying a vermillion tila (or tilak as more popularly known) on the foreheads and pressing uncooked rice over it. They may also put on the garlands and give the bride and groom a bouquet and a coconut wrapped in string.
Photo Credit: Aaron Courter
Parsi weddings are also carried out in all-white wedding attires. The bride is usually dressed in a white blouse and sari which is often heavily embroidered. Different necklines and heirloom or statement jewellery lend a sophisticated touch to the bridal attire. The Parsi groom is dressed in a white robe called a dugli and it is paired with white trousers. It is also essential that the head be covered during the ceremony. While the bride covers her head with a part of the sari, the groom wears a ceremonial hat or a prayer cap. Dressed in immaculate white, the couple is a sight to behold!
Photo Credit: Aaron Courter
Before starting the marriage ceremony, the couple lights a devo or oil lamp together to signify their union. During the actual wedding ceremony, a white cloth is held between the bride and groom and they are not allowed to see each other. Once the priest has heard their both their consents for the union, he officiates and finalizes it. The people gathered around are also asked for their consent and the marriage is finalized soon after.
WEDDING RECEPTION & FOOD
Photo Credit: NearFox
Well, there you go! You can finally feast on those gorgeous dishes you have been eyeing throughout the ceremony. The Parsi’s know how to party and can surely give you a run for your money when it comes to celebration and food. Dance, music and food are the main ingredients for the wedding reception. Remember Farah Khan and Boman Irani in Shirin Frahad ki Toh Nikal Padi? The Parsi wedding food feast usually comprises ofsaariyas (fried sago chips), raspberry drink, Chicken Sali, patri-ni-machchi (fish steamed in banana leaf), muttonpulao dal, kulfi, custard and other delicacies.
Indian Zoroastrian (Parsi or Parsee and Irani) weddings are called a lagan in the Gujarati vernacular.
The Parsees (Parsis) immigrated to India from Iran over a thousand years ago following the Arab invasion of Iran. The Irani Zoroastrians of India immigrated during the last two or three hundred years. Some Irani Zoroastrians continue to have relatives in Iran.
According to the story of the Parsi / Parsee migration to the state of Gujarat in India, the Kisse Sanjan, one of the conditions imposed by the ruling king of Gujarat, Jadi Rana, for allowing the refugees to settle in his kingdom, was that the Zoroastrians would perform marriage ceremonies in the evenings, just after sunset, and that the women would wear the clothes of local women, namely saris.
However, the Parsi / Parsee tradition of holding marriage ceremonies just after sunset does not necessarily stem from the conditions imposed by Jadi Rana. Back in the country from which the Parses migrated, traditional Yazdi Iranian wedding ceremonies were also customarily held in the late evening after dinner. (See Yazdi Wedding Customs)
Indian Zoroastrian weddings and pre-wedding festivities can be quite elaborate, and regardless of size, they are joyous and fun-filled occasions. The rituals, ceremonies and festivities related to a wedding start as soon as a couple decide they want to marry.
While in the past, families played a significant role in introducing prospective partners from within the community, nowadays, Zoroastrians for the main part find their own partners. In the west, these partners are often individuals from other communities.
Age of Marriage
There is a trend for Indian Zoroastrians to marry in their twenties and sometimes even later. This is because Zoroastrians by and large wait until they have graduated from university and have settled in a profession. A corollary is that Zoroastrian families are having fewer children and there are more deaths than births in this emancipated and highly educated community.
Family Blessings – Rupia Peravanu
1942 Silver Indian Rupee
As a rule, when Zoroastrians decide to marry, they inform their parents and seek their parents’ approval. Approval is usually forthcoming, unless of course, the parents feel a marriage would be harmful or ill-advised for some reason overlooked by their daughter or son. It is not uncommon for the parents of both parties to engage in a conversation between themselves to discuss the intentions of their children. If the parents’ consideration is objective and made in the best interests of the couple-to-be, their advice can be invaluable in preventing errors of judgment and short-lived marriages.
Once the parents give their blessings, the rupia peravanu ceremony is arranged at the earliest date. Rupia is a word for the Indian currency – the rupee. Until just over fifty years ago, the rupee was made from silver. The ceremony marks the start of the two families coming together to bless and support the couple, and takes place at the bride-to-be’s family home.
In preparation for the rupia peravanu ceremony, the bride-to-be’s family home is thoroughly cleaned and the main doorways are decorated with torans and chalk designs.
Knitted toran simulating marigolds and mango leaves
Toran of white tuberoses and red carnations
Torans are placed along the top frames of the doorways in a manner similar to a decorative valance, and can be made from flowers, knitting, embroidered cloth or beads.
The photographs above, to the right and below, show examples of different kinds of torans.
Kusti weaver Monaz Variava hand makes a toran
on a loom at her home in Parsi/Parsee Vad, Navsari, Gujarat, India
Designs include fish, roosters & flowers
Designs stamped from powdered chalk, sometimes called chuna or rangoli, festoon the floor on all sides of the doorway. Inside doorways are also decorated.
The visiting entourage from the groom-to-be’s family consists of five to seven (and a maximum of nine) women to give the bride-to-be a gift of silver coins placed in a red brocaded bag. They may carry a sace or ses with them containing a selection of items including the gifts. The visitors are greeted at the door by the intended bride’s mother or eldest woman relative, who performs the achu michu ritual on the visitors. While the ritual is performed to ostensibly remove evil and the evil eye – that is, impediments to a successful marriage – the sentiment is more towards sanctifying the occasion and encouraging positive feelings.
Chalk (chuna or rangoli) designs
At the conclusion of the achu michu, the bride’s mother invites the visitors to sit in the living room where tea and refreshments are served. At the conclusion of the sharing of refreshments, the groom’s mother ceremonially gives the son’s intended the gift of silver coins. This can be done by the groom’s mother asking the bride-to-be to stand on a spot designated by chalk designs, garlanding the bride and placing the bag containing the coins in her hand.
After the groom’s family return home, the bride’s family reciprocate with a visit to the groom’s family home, taking with them a gift of silver coins for the groom-to-be. This is so vastly different from the classic black and white tuxedo wedding, my cousin who owns limousine services Sacramento would make 0 income here…
Bride’s family visits groom’s home
It is now the groom’s mother’s (or older female family member) turn to perform the achu michu ritual on the visiting group from the bride’s family.
The exchange of silver coins is a token of the two families’ agreement and commitment to the marriage. The exchange of visits and blessings formally demonstrate the families’ support for the couple and their decision to marry.
The ceremony also marks the start of the planning process for the wedding ceremony that includes the fixing of a wedding date.
Wedding Planning & Choosing the Date
At a convenient time following the rupia peravanu ceremony, the couple and their families get together to decide on the engagement and marriage dates. For the orthodox, the day of the month according to the Zoroastrian calendar plays an important role in the decision-making. A few also consult an astrologer who suggests dates based on a horoscope (a common practice amongst the Hindus).
Auspicious days according to the Zoroastrian calendar (Shenshai, Kadmi or Fasli) are the first day (Hormazd) or the twentieth day (Behram) of the month.
Engagement – Adravanu, Devo & Sagan Ceremonies
Once the families finalize their plans and have time to acquire and accumulate engagement gifts, the date for a ceremony to mark the formal engagement or betrothal is fixed. The adravanu is the time when the groom-to-be’s family give the bride-to-be a new set of clothes, accessories and jewellery. It is followed by an engagement ceremony.
Chalk (rangoli) decorations
Generally, this ceremony is performed at the bride-to-be’s family home, though the ceremony can also be performed at the groom-to-be’s family home. As with the rupia peravanu ceremony, the doorways of the two homes are decorated with torans and chalk designs.
Some families light an oil lamp called a devo early in the morning on this day. If the theme of the rupia peravanu was silver coins, the theme of the adravanu is fire – adra meaning fire. The theme is reflected in the lighting of lamps and the red colour of the sari and bangles gifted to the bride-to-be.
When the groom’s family arrives at the bride’s family home, they are greeted in a fashion similar to when they arrived for the rupia peravanu ceremony. If the ceremony is planned to go beyond the giving of gifts to an engagement ceremony, the visiting group includes the groom and other close male relatives. The bride’s party welcomes the groom’s party with song and amidst the song, the bride’s mother or senior woman relative garlands the visitors.
The adravanu ceremony starts with the devo ritual. A devo, or oil lamp, is lit by the groom-to-be’s mother who also puts a silver coin in the devo after which she asks the bride-to-be to stand on a stool called a patlo, stepping first with her right foot. The stool is decorated with chalk or rangoli, designs. The groom’s mother performs an achu michu and presents the bride-to-be with gifts that include a red sari and bangles.
The bride-to-be retires to change into her new clothes aided by the other women folk who, if playful, will sing as they wrap the sari around the bride-to-be.
Placing of the bangles
On her return, she is invited to stand on the patlo again and this time the groom’s mother then places red bangles on the bride-to-be’s arm. In earlier days, placing the bangles had the same significance as the exchange of rings has today.
The groom-to-be is now invited to join his intended on the patlo and the two mothers or the eldest woman relative from each family take turns performing the sagan ritual. In the sagan ritual, a coconut is placed in each of their right hands and a garland is placed around their necks. The officiating woman then dips her thumbs into a small metal bowl containing kunkun (sometimes called kumkum) or vermillion paste and touches both their the shoes with her thumb, leaving a red spot of kunkun on their shoes. Next, she places the vermillion paste on their foreheads, making a round mark on the bride-to-be’s forehead and a vertical mark on the groom-to-be’s forehead. The concluding act of the sagan ritual is the placing a piece of sugar crystal, sakar, dipped in yoghurt in the couple’s mouths to encourage sweetness in their communication.
After both mothers have performed the sagan ritual, the couple exchange engagement rings. Family members and invited guests then come up and present the couple gifts – usually envelopes of cash for both of them.
In Zoroastrianism, when a man and woman take part the engagement ceremony, they are implicitly engaging in an exchange of promises witnessed by the angel Mithra, guardian of promises and contracts. The promises are binding and on the pain of damnation, cannot be broken in normal circumstances.
[In earlier days, this ceremony was called nam padvun or namzad kardan (Persian), meaning to name, as this was when the bride-to-be (who until this time was na-kardeh-nam meaning unnamed), adopted the husband’s family name. From this point on the bride-to-be would be connected to the groom-to-be in all religious ceremonies. The marriage ceremony itself was called nekeh kardan meaning confirmation. Breaking the implied contract of the engagement would result in a great loss of face for the families and a shunning of the offending party by the rest of the community. This practice has been discontinued.]
Listen in to Pazand Aashirwad, Sanskrit Ashirwad, along with Afrin Buzorgaan and Doa Tandarosti rendered beautifully by Er. Soli Dastur
Pazand Ashirwad from Masani with English Transliteration
The original Pazand Ashirwad was published in Gujarati with its word by word translation in Gujarati by that eminent Parsi Scholar Ervad Feroze Masani. Ervad Soli P. Dastur transliterated it as well as translated it from Gujarati into English.
After our ancestors received the gracious asylum by King Jadi Rana and his court, and after establishing our Pak Iranshah Atash Behram on the land granted to us by King Jadi Rana, our learned Dasturjis, at the request of the King Jadi Rana, explained the basics of our religion and social customs to the King and his court. One of our most sacred social custom of marriage was explained to them with our Pazand Ashirwad. And in their honor, our Dasturjis translated this Pazand Ashirwad in Sanskrit and presented it to the King and His court with a solemn oath that in their honor, during our most sacred marriage ceremony, we will perform our Pazand Ashirwad followed by this Sanskrit Ashirwad, followed by Afrin Buzorgaan and Doa Tandoorasti.
Over the centuries, unfortunately, many Mobed families dropped this Sanskrit Ashirwad from the marriage ceremony. However, to this day, some of the nine Sanjana families in charge of Iranshah still continue this old tradition and I am very proud to say that our immediate Dastoor family still has kept this old custom going and my brother Ervad Palanji Dastoor and me have performed a few Ashirwads of our immediate families with both Pazand and Sanskrit Ashirwads.
Navsari, a place also known as Dharam Ni Tekri by many. Land which gave this society very known and Famous personalities.
On 21st March about 2000 people witnessed a A very Historic moment which shall be remembered by many of us, where 11 children from poor families were initiated into Zoroastrian faith .
A deserving Parsee couple was sweared in as Husband & wife.
This noble deed was taken care of by MR. HORMUZ AVARI, many more people who flawlessly contributed to this noble deed.
A small town like ours sets an example for the rest of the community to do something like this to encourage today’s Youth by welcoming them into Zoroastrian faith. Lavish food was served to each one present for the function. An evening that indeed was a memorable one. An evening that proved once again that Parsees are born to do charities, what other example than this.Thanking each one from our heart to give us a wonderful evening.
British Deputy High Commissioner, Mumbai invited to a Parsi wedding for the first time, and gives a ‘thumb-nail’ review of the community’s current situation.
From wedding feast to global business – never under-estimate the Parsi influence for good in Mumbai
I was fortunate recently to attend my first ever Parsi wedding. Two of the 40 or so Parsi staff in the Deputy High Commission in Mumbai, Nazneen (our press officer) and Burzin ( a member of the UKBA team), were getting married, and they had been kind enough to invite my wife and me to their wedding.
There are many contrasts with a typical UK wedding. First there were far more people – about 700 – than most people in the UK would normally invite but Indian festive occasions extend beyond the immediate family and friends of the couple to include the social and business obligations of parents and siblings on both sides. The couple are married on a dais after which all the guests go up to meet and greet them individually.” Then there is food, and lots of it! The food is served on a large banana leaf – I had never realised, until I saw mine covered with delicious fish, chicken, rice and much more, how big a banana leaf is! Afterwards, and perhaps this is the biggest difference with Britain, most of the guests depart without so much as one speech: something many people might welcome in the UK.
The Parsis have kept these traditions, and many more, ever since they first emigrated to India from Iran centuries ago. During the wedding the couple went to a nearby “Fire Temple” to pray. These are so named because a fire burns in them eternally as it represents purity, being the only element that cannot be contaminated. In continuance to the original vow made when they first sought refuge in India, Fire Temples admit only Parsis. Pheroza Godrej, who edited a superb book on the origins and development of Bombay, has produced a magnificently illustrated History of the Parsis. I can’t claim to have read it, but it is a labour of love and meticulous research, which wowed some recent visitors from Europe at her home.
The Parsis have a wholly disproportionate influence in Mumbai and India compared to their tiny population. Globally there are probably no more than 120,000, with the largest group outside Mumbai in Toronto.
The Parsi influence was underlined shortly after the wedding I attended by an announcement by the Tata Group – India’s largest business conglomerate, and of course with major interests in the UK, including JLR and Corus – that they were appointing as their next chair a Parsi, Cyrus Mistry. Tata was founded by a Parsi, Jamshyd Tata, who was brought up in the small, dusty trading town of Navsari on the Gujarat coast. He started a steel business in Eastern India, and from there his successors as Chairmen– Parsis all – have built the company into the $78bn megalith it is today.
There are other powerful business groups in India with Parsi owners, including the massive consumer and industrial goods manufacturer Godrej, and smaller companies like Pune-based Forbes Marshall and Thermax.
But the Parsi influence goes way beyond business. Tata have some of the most well-endowed Foundations and Institutes in India, and a significant proportion of the Group’s profits are ploughed under its constitution into these charitable organisations. It is no exaggeration to say that many of Mumbai’s most valuable research organisations, hospitals and cultural centres (for example the vibrant National Centre for the Performing Arts, run by a Parsi, Khushroo Suntook, formerly a senior Tata executive) could not survive without Tata, Godrej or other Parsi generosity.
So from a banana leaf feast to the next head of global giant Tata the Parsi influence continues to hold great sway in Mumbai.