Gaye Holud: A Bengali Pre-Wedding Ceremony

Gaye holud in written Bangla
Gaye holud written in Bangla
Gaye holud or haldi also known as a  turmeric ceremony, is a traditional preparatory celebration, which takes place before the wedding. It is the tradition of applying holud or haldi (turmeric paste) on the bride and groom’s skin in order to beautify them for their wedding. Holud is an antiseptic which not only kills germs and bacteria, but also has a yellow hue which gives skin a unique color and glow.
A pre-wedding ritual involving the application of turmeric to the bride and groom is a wide-spread tradition throughout South Asia and in West Indian culture,  it is a very important custom particular to Bengali weddings and sparks a huge celebration by Bengali Muslims, Hindus and Christians. This is also known as the henna/mehndi night in Northern parts of India and in Pakistan. To West Indians, it is known as dig dutty, matti khor, or simply dye rubbing. However, henna/mehndi night itself is also a preparatory celebration in South Asian weddings, where henna/mehndi is used to decorate the bride’s hands and feet as well as the rest of the female guests. This usually occurs only for the bride and usually attended, only by women. However, some do choose to combine the gaye holud and mehndi night together into one ceremony.
Traditionally, the bride and the groom has a separate gaye holud each at his/her respectable home, where the family members from one side attend the celebration at the opposite side. The bride and groom themselves do not participate in each other’s ceremony. The bride’s gaye holud occurs first, usually during noon. The bride wears yellow/orange outfit, adorned with flowers and is seated on a decorative dais (or piri) on a stage. The bride’s family and friends welcome the groom’s family with flowers and sweets as they enter the household bringing gifts and sweets, laying them in front of the sat bride. Everyone puts holud on the bride’s face and body and feeds her sweets, after which they enjoy a feast prepared by the bride’s family. There is always some form of entertainment as women sing and dance for the occasion.
Fruits and sweets for gaye holud ceremony
Fruits and sweets for gaye holud ceremony
The groom’s gaye holud occurs right after, often on the night of the same day, since it is usually the day before the wedding. This time the bride’s family brings gifts and sweets, welcomed the same way by the groom’s family and friends. The gifts are laid in front of the sat groom and everyone puts holud on the groom and feeds him sweets, after which they enjoy a feast prepared by the groom’s family. Everyone dresses in yellow, orange and reddish outfits, especially the bride’s side of the family and friends who sometimes wear matching outfits just as bridesmaids do for American weddings.
However, nowadays, gaye holud is often celebrated together, and may occur at a venue rather than the homes of the couple. It can take place the day before the wedding or a few days earlier or even a week beforehand. A lot of brides choose to celebrate gaye holud and a henna/mehndi night back to back. The mehndi night is done before the gaye holud in most cases. In keeping with the tradition of the bride and groom not seeing each other at this ceremony, some couples choose to do the ceremony side by side with a partition in the middle.
Gifts are a big part of the gaye holud ceremony. Everything is packed in decorative cane or bamboo trays, baskets and supdas (also known as kula). For the bride’s ceremony, the groom’s family usually brings the following:
Bridal outfit: the sari or lehenga to be worn for the wedding is usually given from by the groom’s family. It is folded decoratively in a tray, sometimes wrapped around a doll. The shoes and bangles can also be given together with the outfit.

Bridal saree
Bridal saree
Bridal trousseau: these may include several trays and baskets of items such as perfume, lotion, shampoo, spa items, makeup, hair accessories, etc.
Gifts for the bride’s side of the family: these may include outfits for the bride’s immediate family members such as parents, siblings, aunts and cousins. Often so many gifts are being given that it is not possible to wrap all items in trays and baskets. As a result, some are done as so for show and others are packed in a red suitcase which is sent over to the bride’s home beforehand. The red suitcase is a ceremonial symbol of marriage which is used to pack up the bride’s belongings when leaving her home for the groom.

Gifts for the bride and her family
Gifts for the bride and her family
Sweets: sweets are a must-have for gaye holud. These are a symbol of happiness and celebration as traditionally sweets are used to celebrate any occasion and used for “muk misti”, which means feeding sweets. The family members often choose to bring homemade traditional desserts known as pithe or pitha.

Sweets and pitha
Sweets and pitha
Fruits: bringing fruits is also part of the tradition. Elaborate fruit baskets made from real fruits such as watermelons are a common practice.

Hilsa (ilish) fish dressed as a couple (courtesy of Wikipedia - Arman Aziz)
Hilsa (ilish) fish dressed as a couple (courtesy of Wikipedia - Arman Aziz)
Fish: Bangladesh is known for its rivers and streams which is why fish is a major part of the diet of Bengali people. As a result, giving fish to the bride’s family is a customary. Usually two large fishes are given – dressed as a wedding couple. One is wrapped in a sari or lehenga and may have a nose ring or earrings attached, representing the bride, while the other is wrapped in men’s clothing such as a Punjabi set or fotua and lungi, the traditional Bengali men’s attire, representing the groom. Nowadays, actual fish is usually replaced with sweets molded as fish.

Sweets molded in fish shapes
Sweets molded in fish shapes
Paan: Paan or betel leaf, which is a palate cleanser and a breath freshener, is offered by the groom’s family as a sign of hospitality. This is offered at the gaye holud to the bride’s family, which is served by the bride’s mother to everyone on the wedding day. It is served with supari (areca nut), chuun (a lime paste), and mukhwas (a mix of seeds, nuts and candies).
Hould, mehndi, upton paste: The groom’s family brings the Holud paste to apply on the bride in a decorative bowl or basket as well. The holud paste is a mixture of turmeric and either mustard oil, milk or water. Mehndi is also provided for decorating the bride’s hands and feet. Some women prefer not to apply the holud and therefore a substitute is used such as upton mix or sandalwood.

Supda (kula)
Supda (kula)
Rakhi: The groom’s mother brings a rakhi to tie on the bride’s wrist as a symbol of a new relationship formed.
DIY Rakhi
DIY Rakhi
For the groom’s ceremony, the bride’s family usually brings the following:
Groom’s wedding outfit: similarly, the groom’s outfit is usually a gift from the bride’s family. It is wrapped nicely as well along with the shoes and brought in a decorative tray.
Groom’s trousseau: these may include several trays and baskets of items such as cologne, grooming items, ties, shirts, accessories, etc.
Gifts for the groom’s side of the family: these may include outfits for the groom’s immediate family members such as parents, siblings, aunts and cousins. As with the brid’s gifts, so many gifts are being given that some are decoratively packed and brought in during the ceremony for show and others are packed ahead and sent over to the groom’s home beforehand.

Gifts for the groom and his family
Gifts for the groom and his family
Sweets: again, sweets are brought by the bride’s family which sometimes include homemade traditional desserts known as pithe or pitha.

Sweets and pitha
Sweets and pitha
Fruits: elaborate fruit baskets made from real fruits such as watermelons are brought as well.
Hould, mehndi, upton paste: The bride’s family also brings the holud paste to apply on the groom in a decorative bowl or basket. This may be substituted by upton mix or sandalwood.
Supda (kula) with mehndi
Supda (kula) with mehndi
Supda (kula) with holud and upton mix
Supda (kula) with holud and upton mix

Rakhi: The bride’s’s mother brings a rakhi to tie on the groom’s wrist as a symbol of a new relationship formed.
Fruits and sweets for gaye holud ceremony
Fruits and sweets for gaye holud ceremony

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