By Aynur Jafarova
Family is a fundamental pillar of the society. Azerbaijani people create a family through a wedding as it is one of the most important pages in their lives as well as the most beautiful and richest embodiment of the spiritual values of the country.
Azerbaijani weddings are famous for their most significant, unique, colorful, and solemn traditions, festive ceremonies, rich decorations, and delicious foods, as well. Wedding ceremonies are the integrated part of the cultural and moral world of Azerbaijani people. Each of the traditions is linked with the ancient beliefs.
A wedding consists of several stages, in particular, matchmaking, engagement, and a special ceremony.
In ancient times, the mother, aunts, or sisters of a young man were on the lookout for a suitable girl at weddings, holidays, street festivities, and springs. They began gathering information about the future bride, her parents, family, and her place of living. A chosen bride would have special qualities such as beauty, stature, innocence, skilful housekeeping, efficiency, intellect, and courtesy.
Two women - the man's mother and one of his close relatives come to girl's house to inform the girl's mother about their intention. This is the initial matchmaking. As soon as the women come to agreement, it means that it is time for the meeting of both families' heads, in other words, the main matchmaking.
According to the tradition, the father of the future groom invites his close relatives to his house for making a common decision on matchmaking. More respected, elder relatives of the man take part in the main matchmaking ceremony.
The matchmakers come to the girl's house on the appointed day. Everybody tries to choose the successful day for matchmaking, a day when all dreams come true. According to an ancient tradition, in order to counteract the evil spirits which would border the matchmakers' path on the way to the bride's house, people attached a pin to doors and walls of the house, which they approach. Evil spirits, frightened from the pin made of iron, did not have enough courage to leave the home and accompany the matchmaker going to the bride's house.
On the matchmaking day the parents are introduced to each other and they discuss the future groom, recommending him to the future bride's parents in the absence of their children.
The girl's father does not give his consent at first. He should ask the opinion of his daughter and consult with his elders. When the girl is asked whether she wants to get married to this man or not, she usually keeps silent, which is the sign of her consent.
After a while, the relatives of the future groom come to the future bride's house again. The father of the man asks for the girl's father's answer. If he gives his consent, tea with sugar is served and the new relatives congratulate each other and they drink sweet tea. However, if the girl and her family are against this marriage, unsweetened tea is served, which is the sign of their rejection.
After tea, the young couple is invited in and introduced to each other's parents. The matchmaking is followed by the engagement ceremony.
After the matchmaking, the relatives of the groom come to the bride's house for the engagement ceremony. The main components of the engagement ceremony are a ring and a shawl.
On the engagement day "nishan khonchalari" (engagement trays filled with sweets, fruits and presents) are taken to the bride's house. The trays brought by the groom's relatives should be filled and returned by the bride's family.
During the engagement ceremony, groom's family wears the ring to the finger of the bride and covers her neck with a shawl. It symbolizes that this girl already belongs to that person.
After the engagement, the couple is officially considered betrothed. The couple continues to date for several months while discussing the possible wedding arrangements.
During this time, the groom and his family usually give presents to the bride. The presents, such as chocolates and national sweets, are usually put in the "khoncha" which is decorated with flowers, ribbons, and fancy wrappings. Clothing, flowers, and small jewelry would also be among the gifts.
One of the interesting gifts is a large sugar cone that is wrapped in colorful ribbons and is brought to the bride's household as a symbol of a sweet and easy life.
In ancient times, when the technologies such as mobile telephones, computers, and internet, in particular, social networks were not in use, the betrothed were allowed to see each other with the consent of both families in order to let them get accustomed to each other after the engagement. This custom, called "adakhlibazlig" (a meeting of the betrothed pair) was nicely described in the musical comedy "Not This One, then That One" by the great composer, Uzeyir Hajibeyov.
During the holidays, the groom's family usually sends festive presents for the bride. According to the tradition, in the Moslem Festival of Sacrifice, a ram with a silk scarf tied around its neck and henna-dye on its head is brought to the bride's house.
The period after the engagement and before the wedding is the main period in the life of a young couple. During this time, both families begin preparing for the wedding ceremony. The groom's family buys clothes and jewelry for the bride while the bride's family starts making "jehiz" (dowry) preparations.
The relatives and neighbors of the bride gather to prepare the bride's bedding and the dowry.
According to the custom, before the wedding, the bride was a guest of relatives and friends. At the end of the visit, she would be given blankets, pillows, carpets, and kitchenware. All these presents were added to the bride's dowry.
One of the wedding traditions is called "paltarkesdi" (a ceremony to tailor and display dresses for the bride) which takes place at the bride's house. The participants of this ceremony are only women. The relatives of the groom bring trays filled with clothing for bride. They show the gifts bought for the bride. All the women, starting with the groom's mother, put money onto the clothes. The bride's sister, in turn, shows the dowry of the bride.
The "ev bezemek" ceremony, which means the decorating the house where the bride and the groom will live, is held a few days before the wedding ceremony. On this day, the bride's dowry is brought to the groom's house by the bride's brothers, uncles and cousins. The aim of this tradition is to provide the young couple with all necessities. Then the bride's sisters, aunts and friends come to the groom's house, arrange the dowry and decorate the house. At the end, the groom's mother gives gifts to those who decorated the house.
The "kebin kesmek" ceremony (religious registration of the marriage) is held several days before the wedding with the participation of witnesses from both sides. The "mehr" (a guaranteed sum) is written into the "kebin kagizi" (a marriage contract). This is a guaranteed amount of money for the bride in case of divorce or death of the husband.
A ceremony of "khinayakhdi" (henna smearing) is held a day before the wedding at the bride's house. The bride's nearest female friends and relatives are invited to this event. A group of young boys and girls with musicians come from the groom's house. The nearest relatives of the groom smear henna on the bride's fingers and give gifts.
In ancient times, it was believed that the henna waves off the evil spirits and bad luck. Today the henna designs are very elegant and are usually done only for aesthetic purposes.
According to ancient traditions, the groom, together with his friends, used to go to the 'beylik hamami' (a bath-house ceremony). A special 'bey khonchasi' (a tray filled with things for the groom) for the bath-house ceremony was sent from the bride's house and included a silk shirt, socks, silk handkerchiefs, and other presents.
On the wedding day, the groom, his friends and his relatives come to the bride's house in a fancy and luxurious car decorated with ribbons and flowers. They carry a mirror and candles that are believed to represent well-being and happiness.
The groom is accompanied with a small group of musicians as well. When the groom arrives at the bride's house, a woman opens the door and pretends not to let the groom in until he gives some money. This tradition is very fun and playful.
There is a tradition to tie a red sash around the bride's waist to symbolize purity and innocence. It is done by the groom's brother, or closest male relative. Then, the bride's father takes her hand and walks her three times around the lamp. Her parents also give their daughter their blessings and the recommendations how to be a good wife and mother in her future family.
After all these ceremonies, the couple is led under the holy "Koran" at the doorway and the groom "takes" the bride away for the wedding ceremony. The bride and groom leave the house and the musicians play a traditional song called "vaghzali".
The wedding ceremony is usually held in a large restaurant with live music, dancing, and delicious meals. In ancient times, Azerbaijani weddings lasted 40 days and 40 nights.
Three days later, a ceremony called "uzechixdi", which means the end of "absence" period, takes place. On this day, the nearest female relatives of the bride and the groom assemble in the newlyweds' house and give her gifts or money. The groom's mother cooks meals for her guests. The ceremony of "uzechikhdi" brings the bride into the life of her new family and thus, she becomes an equal member in the family.