In the meantime we thought you’d like to know a bit more about the Persian marriage thing.
Weddings are big the world over, so to say that they are big in Iran would be no more than a cliche….but they really are regarded as potentially the most prestigious day in a man or woman’s life. Accounts in old travelogues such as that of Sir John Chardin, and Joseph Knanishu describe incredible feasting and merriment – the former was surely the original gourmand, but the latter gives lavish (albieit gloriously disapproving and bigoted) descriptions of all aspects of Persian marriage. It is not uncommon still for wedding ceremonies to go on for a week.
Under Islamic law, there are several layers of betrothal or attachment in Iran: it is actually possible to get ‘married’ for an afternoon, or a week, or any pre-determined period. This can be done in front of a mullah, but is just as likely to be done by the couple in question themselves through the simple speaking of a few words. A price (dowry) is normally set which is payable to the ‘bride’ upon the conclusion of her term in favour. We can hear the cynics amongst you drawing breath here and mutterings about legalised prostitution…but the practice itself is harmless enough, and by many modern, young couples it is seen as a way of sanctifying something beautiful. It can also be regarded simply as a form of engagement, especially in the west, which is how Mrs.S. found herself sitting in the Universal Islamic Institute in Holland Park a number of years ago: she and Mr. S. had just become engaged in the British sense, and this was the closest we could find in the Iranian sense. The mullah is a charming and benevolent man, with twinkly eyes which belie his austere robes; fortunately he is also possessed of a sense of humour – reader, he married us…he wasn’t meant to, but he apparently decided that this was a good match, and spontaneously upgraded the bonding. Mrs.S. caused much mirth when she named her price for separation or dowry – a Persian kitten; the norm is a gold coin or six. More laughter when she went to shake his hand (one doesn’t touch mullahs)…
The next level is the simple, legal marriage – this is performed in front of a registrar in a registry office without too much ceremony. Just like a registry office wedding over here. Again, a price is put on the cost of separation – should the couple divorce, the bride is entitled to compensation of a specified number of gold coins (not kittens), thus reclaiming her dowry.
And then there is the all-singing, all-dancing, no-holds-barred, proper Persian wedding. Again, a mullah will preside, but the traditional ‘arousee’ is inextricably bound with ancient Zoroastrian rituals and delightfully overlaid with some typically western conceits.
Persian brides dress as meringues just the same as brides all over, and on this one day in Iran they do not have to be too covered up – all the world loves to see a wedding, and the authorities are indulgent (or can often be persuaded to be indulgent) about such occasions. The bride will spend hours and hours at a ‘wedding parlour’ (big industry in Iran; specialists in this area are in big demand for those living in exile) on the morning of the wedding – hair is usually straight out of Dallas, and make-up is, shall we say, extreme – but then she will have to undergo hours of filming on set….. Weddings are usually held in a rented ‘salon’.
Bride and groom sit next to each other under a canopy, over which female relatives grate sugar (for sweetness); before them is laid a ‘sofreh aghd’ (spread wedding cloth, pictured above*) piled with things which will bring them luck and fertility and happiness – eggs (obvious), a needle and thread (to sew shut the mouths of meddlesome relatives – great fun this), coins (for wealth, natch), bread and cheese (for energy), a pot of honey (which they suck from each others’ fingers), sweets (to bring sweetness again), together with lots of flowers and herbs. Esphand (or wild rue) is usually burnt to ward off the bad eye (aka jealousy).
The couple hold a Koran (or an Avesta) so that they can follow as the mullah/presiding official recites from it. A mirror is placed facing them so that they can see each other without direct eye contact – the bride should be very demure. The presiding official will ask “Arous-khanum, razi hasti?” – “Are you happy, Mrs. Bride?”
The bride, being very modest, will say nothing, but female members of her family answer on her behalf: “Arous raft gul bichineh!” – “The bride has gone to pick flowers!”
Again the official will ask, “Arous-khanum, razi hasti?”
Again the ladies of her family reply, “Arous raft gulab biereh!” – “The bride has gone to fetch rose water!”
Only on the third asking will the bride reply, “Bale! (YES!)”, or more elaborately, “Ba-ejaseh-o-maman va baba-am, bale – razi hastam!” – “With my parents’ permission, yes indeed I am happy!”
At this point the couple are considered to be married, and there will be a lot of ululation (very excited cheering ). Confetti, rice and noghl (tiny sugar coated sweets) may be thrown.
With this, the guests pay their respects and give gifts – this is almost always in the form of jewellery for the bride, which is a valid and respected currency and investment in Iranian culture. And then there’ll be music and dancing and feasting….
And lots and lots of filming (if the film isn’t quite right, there’ll be endless re-takes; this is a movie that will have to run and run; it will be sent across the Atlantic, and posted on Facebook – Iranians video absolutely everything with an incredibly embarrassing passion).
If you’re very lucky we’ll post some post wedding pictures next week…
*Junior’s ‘sofreh aghd’ (and ours a few years ago) was assembled by his aunt, Tatty-jun, and took the skills of three ladies over 12 hours, 15m of tuile and 20m of purple ribbon. Just saying.