The Financial Express

The changing nature of wedding ceremonies

The changing nature of wedding ceremonies

There are a few typical scenarios found in rural Bangladesh in the period starting from December up to February. Lots of them have nearly vanished. Still a number of the spectacles remain with their earlier warmth and beauty. Foremost among them are professionals extracting date palm juice from tree-tops. This sight is followed by wedding ceremonies which stand out with their simplicity. But they do not lack their old festivity-filled jovial atmosphere. All of these special spectacles speak of a singular message --- winter has arrived once again.

Juice extraction from trees for drinking and making sweet and aromatic molasses and solid 'goorh' is a humdrum sight. A wedding ceremony is not. Unlike in the cities, the rural marriage functions normally witness fanfare and jovialities that at times break through the traditional bounds. The rural women in Bangladesh are traditionally used to remaining out of the view of male strangers. On wedding occasions, they come out in droves. It is implied that tacit approvals of the elderly blood relatives, both male and female, embolden them.

Starting from the building of the ceremonial entrance of the bridegroom and his retinue, normally called wedding gates, an occasion of marriage warrants meticulous completion of a lot of pre-wedding rituals. One of them is the secret meeting of the teenage girl-relatives of the bride. Led by the most senior of them, the girls decide on the monetary amount to be asked from the groom while entering through the gate. At times boys also accompany them. Gate-money has traditionally been an essential component of the wedding festivity. Many a time, fracas arises over the amount of the money. Finally, the intervention of the adults from both sides resolves the dispute.

Meanwhile, 'Gaye Holud' still comprises a major part of the pre-wedding festival. It has brides' and bridegrooms' faces coated by relatives with pastes of raw turmeric.   

It is the absence of unnecessary pomp, which characterises the village weddings. These days, however, the rural nouveaux riches are found letting themselves bask in pageant-filled extravaganza. Like with every sector, these weddings are being greatly influenced by urban norms. In the past, wedding gates in villages mostly used to be made of two banana tree-trunks placed two to three yards apart. They are still in practice. Thickly sliced and curved bamboos connect the two banana trees. Coloured papers and different shapes of confetti and decoration tidbits are then hung from the bamboo slices. Records of film songs would be played through loudspeakers placed on the gates. At times band parties from the nearby towns would be brought to the wedding venues. These two most essential aspects of rural weddings have eventually fizzled out. Music, songs, wedding dances by young girls and other traditional entertainments no longer constitute the wedding ceremonies in Bangladesh. The chief focus of the wedding is now concentrated on the feast.               

Irrespective of villages and urban areas, people in general choose the Bangla winter months Agrohayan, Poush and Magh for arranging wedding events. Despite the bites of cold, these months remain mostly sunny and dry. As per rural tradition, marriages do not normally take place in the month of Chaitra. Despite being the first of the 3-month spring, Chaitra is viewed as the start of Bangla season of summer coupled with heat and storms. Although the norm is strictly followed in villages, city people are least concerned about on which day and in which month a wedding ceremony is held. The reason that plays a great role in the city people's apathy towards auspiciousness or otherwise of a month or day lies in the very nature of the urban weddings. However, rains or inclement weather affect the festive mood of a marriage in the cities and towns as well. In many ways, rain and storms do carry disruptive elements. To the great relief of urban residents, wedding receptions have long begun being held indoors, i.e. at convention centres or community halls.

In the earlier times, wedding feasts normally used to be held on the roofs of private buildings in Dhaka. Moneyed men would arrange the function in their spacious lawns, while the locally influential people chose the nearby playgrounds. The venues used for throwing wedding parties or arranging receptions have undergone radical changes in character. Of late, renting-out of convention centres has emerged as a lucrative business. To arrange a wedding reception at a moderately famed hall, one has to book it around one month in advance with partial payment. Even the neighbourhood community centres cannot assure of the venues unless they are booked at least a week before. Two decades ago, there were only a handful of convention centres in the capital Dhaka. In the following years, their number has multiplied strikingly. The number now stands at around four to five hundred in the greater Dhaka. Like the pomp accompanying the ceremonies, the wedding halls also vary in terms of their status.

In the capital, there are posh centres having the facilities of a high-ranking rest-house. In the earlier days, the feasts would be served in several batches. These days, the guests can have the feast at a time with their sitting arrangements made on two to three floors. Even the mid-rank convention centres have the facilities almost similar to those of the posh ones. However, there are also venues for the wedding organisers with fixed income. Like the former, these centres, too, have permanent arrangement of illumination and decoration ingredients. Although, the music-playing loudspeakers have long disappeared, scores of parties hire the age-old band parties who play their music intermittently.

A few convention centres have music departments which deal with their salaried band parties and sound boxes placed in the vital corners of the hall. The guests here are welcomed at the 'decorated gates' with recorded 'sehnai' pieces played by Bismillah Khan, sitar numbers by Ravishankar or Tagore songs. The character of wedding ceremonies has continued to change with the entry of newer trends --- be they the dresses of the brides or bridegrooms, or the vehicles carrying them. The bridegroom and his entourage arriving at the venue on horse-drawn carriages, and leaving the place after the ceremony is over, have become common spectacles in both the large and smaller cities. The urban weddings distinguish themselves with a prominent feature. They are more or less subdued in nature, with few showiness and hullabaloo. Although it sounds harsh, it is true differences among the wedding organisers are becoming sharp with time.

The grades of the wedding festivities are now related to the monetary positions of the guardians of the brides and bridegrooms. Few areas in society are free of this feature.

As it befits human nature, man has always searched for new ways of celebrating an old event. The nature of many a festival-dominant ritual has undergone remarkable changes. Wedding ceremonies are among them. Although lots of people will call them gimmicks, underwater marriages, with the bride, the bridegroom and the priest in diving suits, add much to the weird festivity of the event. The same is true with the marriage on board a plane. The maverick style in which astrophysicists have trained their focus on space, few might feel surprised if future astronauts tie their knots thousand miles above the Erath --- in zero gravity.       


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