Two days ago I was privileged to document a Persian wedding (my first!). We had a little rain during the ceremony, but the weather turned around not long after, and we had a wonderful sunset. To say it was a wonderful wedding was an understatement; I always love weddings filled with not only love and friendship, but also traditions and culture. This was colourful to say the least, with intricate details throughout (and lots of dances!).
I read a bit about Persian weddings online, and some of the captions underneath the photos below are taken from the following website: (I apologize in advance if there are any errors; please feel free to contact me and I'll be happy to edit it :))
The day was filled with non-stop actions from start to finish! There are almost 1,300 photos (edited high resolution files) that Soudabeh and Keyvan will receive; it's so difficult to narrow down to few dozens for the blog! Big thanks to Soudabeh and Keyvan for trusting me to capture their big day, and I wish both of you the sweetest new chapter!
Venue: Pinebrook Golf & Country Club
Photographer: RaraA Photography
If you are a vendor at Soudabeh and Keyvan's wedding, please contact me, and I'll be more than happy to include you and provide a link to your website!
The couple's name embroidered in the inner part of the groom's jacket.
The groomsmen had quite the time figuring out how to put the boutonniere up :)
Their first look.
This is the ceremony portion of the wedding. Just as in western weddings, in this portion, the bride (aroos) and groom (dāmād) are situated before the guests, and this is the point at which wedding vows are exchanged and the official marriage contracts are signed. However, there are many customs and rituals observed in the aghd that are very different from Western customs. In the aghd portion of the wedding, the ceremony begins with the groom seated on a bench in front of the guests. In front of them is the sofreyé aghd, a table which contains several highly symbolic items. Above his head is a canopy held by female family members or female members of the bridal party. The bride walks into the ceremony wearing a veil. She is preceded by someone burning a special incense called esfand, which is said in Persian tradition to ward off the evil eye. The bride takes a seat to the left of the groom with the groom seated on her right hand- this designates a place of respect.
This is perhaps the most important element of a Persian wedding, and what makes it unique from all others in the world. Sofré is the word for tablecloth in Persian. sofreyé aghd is very similar to the sofreh set at nowruz, the Persian new years. Like the one set for nowruz, the sofreyé aghd also directly hails from Zoroastrian tradition, and it has changed very little in the last few thousand years. The tablecloth itself is normally either on the floor on a rug to prevent slippage in an indoor wedding, or constructed on wood raised from the ground about 6-8 inches in an outdoor wedding. It is usually covered by either a simple cloth, or an elaborate cloth called a termé. Usually the bride's mother spends several months before the wedding gathering elements of the sofré- these elements are both objects that are near and dear to the hearts of the bride and groom, and elements that contain imagery and symbolism relating to their impending union. They include the following:
1. ayné va shamdoon (mirror and candlesticks)
This is the most important and most iconic part of the sofré. The mirror and candlesticks will become a part of the couple’s home as a memento of their wedding ceremony, and must therefore be chosen wisely and with the personality of the couple in mind. Traditionally, the mirror and candlesticks were gold dipped or made of silver, but modern couples often opt for other materials. The mirror symbolizes eternity and the candlesticks reference Zoroastrianism, in which light and fire play an extremely important part. In this context, the fire and light represent the brightness of the future and eternal passion. The mirror and candlesticks are situated in front of the bride and groom during the aghd, with the mirror facing the couple and away from the audience. After the bride sits on the stool beside the groom, she lifts her veil, and the groom sees her for the first time in the mirror.
Note: it is customary for the bride and groom to have several photos of them looking into the mirror, again representing them looking into the future.
2. nooné sangak (specially baked flatbread)
nooné sangak is a certain type of flatbread baked in a coal oven on top of coals and stones. On the sofreyé aghd, the bread is usually ornately arranged, either into a shape like flowers, or with the word mobarak (celebrate/congratulations) etched into it. The bread represents prosperity for feasts and the couple’s life thereafter.
In addition to this decorative bread, there is generally a tray of bread, feta cheese, and fresh herbs that are intended to be shared with the guests after the ceremony. This is done to share the couple’s happiness and prosperity with the guests.
3. basket of decorated eggs (tokhmé morgh) and nuts
The sofreyé aghd also includes a basket of decorated eggs- often beaded or painted gold, and various nuts such as almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts, also painted gold. These represent fertility.
4. bowl made out of crystallized sugar
The bowl made out of crystallized sugar often also contains more crystallized sugar (also known as rock candy) inside it. This represents sweetness in the couple’s life.
5. bowl of gold coins
These are pretty self explanatory- they represent future financial prosperity for the couple.
6. basket of fruit
A basket of fruit is included- usually either anār (pomegranates) orseeb (apples), depending on the season, to represent a joyous and fruitful future for the couple.
7. tray of spices
This is a well designed part of the table- a tray in which seven spices of seven different colors are laid out in order to represent prosperity and spiciness of life. Each of the spices generally have a specific meaning and significance.
During the ceremony, someone will walk in front of the bride holding an incent called esfand, which will then be placed on top of the sofré. Esfand is a very important element in Iranian tradition, because it has been used for thousands of years to ward away the ‘evil eye’.
Evil eye is a concept prevalent in the Middle East, and refers to people that look with malignant envy at success. In Iranian tradition, burning esfand prevents the evil eye of people from causing actual harm.
As the bride and groom are seated before the guests, a canopy is held above their heads by several unmarried women, traditionally family members, but in modern weddings, by the bride's wedding party. Until the 19th century, the canopy was green, the favorite color of Zoroastrians, but in recent years, it is a white piece of cloth to blend more with Western culture.
As the ceremony is taking place, happily married members of the family take turns grinding two sugar cones together so that the sugar granules fall into the canopy, symbolically showering the couple in sweetness.
10. an abundance of flowers
Flowers are used in Persian weddings to decorate the sofré, but they are also used as a symbolic sign of life, spring, and beauty.
11. golab (cup of rosewater)
Rosewater is extremely important in Persian culture, and it is used as perfume as well as for cooking. In this case, the rosewater is intended to perfume the air during the ceremony.
12. a book of significance for the couple
For religious couples, the quran is placed on the table, open to a verse about the importance of marriage. Secular couples, on the other hand, will usually display a book of poetry by one of the great Persian poets, or another book that holds a significant place in their relationship.
The groom is seated on the stool at the end of the sofreyé aghd. He is facing the guests with the mirror and candlesticks faced towards him. He can see his reflection in the mirror, representing eternity. The candlesticks are lit before the ceremony begins. There are two of them representing the bride and groom and the eternal light and passion they will share with one another. This fire element comes directly from Zoroastrian tradition, like most of the other traditions of the ceremony.
The bride enters wearing a veil, often accompanied by her mother and father. She has a seat to the left of the groom. After having a seat, she lifts her veil, and the groom’s first image of her is in the mirror before him.
The bride and groom sit beneath a canopy held up either by female family members, or in modern weddings, by the members of the bride’s bridal party. This canopy signifies that the bride and groom are now combined under the same umbrella or roof.
While the officiant is talking, happily married women (starting with family members, and then expanding to friends among the guests) take turns rubbing sugar cones together above the canopy. The sugar granules sprinkle onto the canopy, signifying showering the couple in sweetness.
At this point in the ceremony, the officiant asks for the consent of the bride and groom.
First, he asks the groom if he consents to marry the bride. The groom immediately says ‘balé’, or yes.
Next, he asks the bride- now this is the fun part. When he asks the bride, her goal is to make the guests, and especially the groom, a bit nervous by making them wait for an answer. So after he asks her if she consents to marrying the groom, she remains silent. After a couple seconds of nervous silence, someone from the audience yells out an excuse for why the bride isn’t answering. For instance, they might say- ‘The bride has gone out to pick flowers!’ The officiant asks again. Again, she remains silent, and a member of the audience shouts another excuse- ‘The bride has gone to get coffee with her friends!’. The officient asks a third time, and this time, the bride says ‘with the permission of my father and mother- balé!’ And everyone starts kelling (the loud lee-lee-lee-lee sounds all middle easterners make) and clapping in joy.
Now it’s time for the honey exchange, perhaps the most beautiful and sensual part of the wedding ceremony. After the consent has occurred, the groom picks up a jar of honey (asal) that from the table. He dips his little finger into the jar of honey, and feeds it to the bride. She then does the same for him. This is to symbolize that they will feed each other sweetness and sustenance throughout their lives together.
Finally, the groom is free to kiss (boos) his new bride.
Now that the bride and groom have both consented and exchanged sweetness and kisses, their immediate family members rush to congratulate them, kissing each on the cheek, and often showering them with presents of gold (talā) jewelry. After the immediate family has congratulated the couple, the rest of the guests of the ceremony come up one by one to kiss the bride and groom and offer congratulations.
The family and guests presenting the newlyweds with gifts.
Click here for the 2nd part - portraits at golden hour and more dancing (including the Knife Dance!)