Bengali Weddings

Yesterday, I attended the wedding of a proximate family friend. This was probably the hundredth Muslim-Bengali wedding I’d been to, and so I am very accustomed to the various rituals and unwritten rules. Some of these rituals, I find, are inherently misogynistic, and in my opinion, some drastic cultural reforms are necessary. That being said, most of the other aspects of traditional Muslim-Bengali weddings are intrinsically alluring, as they encourage celebration and unity.

Typically, Desi matrimonial observances span over a number of days. Muslim-Bengali weddings are usually arranged marriages; the notion of arranged marriage is one I firmly believe is fundamentally stupid. Celebrations begin after a match is made, either by the elders of the family, or by the potential partners themselves. Nowadays, religious matrimonial websites are often used to find a suitable husband or wife, without overstepping religious boundaries. After that, there is an engagement party (a ‘Sinifaan’), during which the bride’s family and the groom’s family meet eachother. Then, there is a Henna party for the bride- an entire night centred on the application of Henna to the bride’s arms- many Western Bengalis see this as an alternative to a hen party, though some choose to have a hen party too. Normally, approximately a week later, the official wedding ceremony takes place. Some couples choose to have a Nikaah celebration before the wedding; this is when the bride and bridegroom sign their official marriage documents, and a religious official prays for the success of their marriage. The final celebration is the Walima, or wedding banquet, the final and most extravagant celebration. So, first the Sinifaan, then the Henna party, then the Nikaah, and finally the Walima. As you can probably infer by now, a lot of money is spent on weddings in the Muslim-Bengali community.

The wedding I attended yesterday did not stray very far from the order of events that I am used to: first, we arrived at the hall, and were directed by a man in a high-vis jacket to the car park. In the reception area, there was an extensive table, atop which sat a large chocolate fountain and around a hundred wine glasses, containing fruit juices: though in most Western weddings, alcohol and music together form the celebratory basis of the party, in Muslim-Bengali weddings, it is all about food, family and elaborate dresses.

In religious Desi weddings, the male and female dining areas are usually segregated, and there are two stages in each section- one for the bride and one for her groom. They sit on thrones (hired, of course), sometimes uneasily, sometimes rather confidently, and are greeted by their guests. Pleasantries are exchanged, younger family members are taunted (“you’re next!”) and envelopes containing money are handed to the respective mothers of the bride and groom.

In my opinion, the food is the very best part of a Desi wedding: three courses of exquisite culinary delights. After two hours of restlessness and growling stomachs, the waiters arrive, looking fatigued, carrying silver dishes. The starter is served first- this almost always consists of chicken Tikka, kebabs, samosas and/or spring rolls, Tandoori chicken and the accompanying sauces, salads and pickles. For drinks, it has almost become a British-Bengali tradition to serve Evian water and Coke. Finally, dessert is usually rather light (semolina or ice-cream with Halwa) so that the guests have some room in their stomachs for the various fruits and sweets that surround the chocolate fountain. After all, what’s a Bengali wedding without a chocolate fountain?

After complaining that they have eaten far too much, the guests may wish to converse amongst themselves, or perhaps take some pictures with an ice sculpture or super car: some, more wealthy, Bengali families hire processions of Lamborghinis and Ferraris to escort the newly wedded couple to the groom’s residence: a rather culturally sexist fact is that the bride is expected to bid farewell to her family, and go and live with the groom’s family. Most Bengali brides weep uncontrollably during their weddings (so thank the Lord for waterproof make-up), due to the sexist nature of their marital expectations: to cook, clean and eventually raise children.

Thankfully, these patriarchal attitudes are gradually being averted, and it’s about time, too.

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