A “big fat Indian wedding” is a sobriquet well-earned. Fancy, loud and glamorous! But there are some weddings in the country which are not as pompous as others but are no less in elegance and charm. Thinking of which ones those could be? Yes, Assamese marriage ceremonies are one of them! The fact that this northeastern state is multi-linguistic, multi-ethnic and multi-religious makes it all the way more interesting for non-Assamese people to witness the weddings there. One of the main highlights of the Assamese wedding ceremony is its rituals which are deeply rooted in the culture of the region.
The Assamese wedding ceremony is called ‘Biya’ and the whole affair spans through 2-3 days, depending on the number of ceremonies included. The wedding style of this northeastern state is one of a kind. Definitely one can’t afford to miss!
Some of the significant aspects of this marriage are the singing of folk songs “biya naam” or “biya geet” mostly sung by women before and during the wedding rituals, the blowing of conch shells and distinct sounds of ululations or the ‘uruli’ that one can hear often during the entire ceremony. Also, worth witnessing are the fun banters between the two sides as the wedding proceeds. All these and more that you must have never witnessed in other Indian wedding functions.
Find out more about what a traditional Assamese wedding looks and feels like.
Here think of the juroon diya ceremony as the bridal shower. It is held two days before the wedding, and the to-be-bride is pampered with gifts and love. The groom’s mother along with her female relatives visits the bride’s house. The bride’s mother welcomes and greets the groom’s mother by presenting her a bell metal plate called ‘xorai’ containing betel nut and betel leaves (pan and tamul) covered with gamucha (a traditional Assamese towel) as a token of respect. Then after, the would-be mother-in-law gifts the bride her wedding trousseau, makeup and jewellery.
A part of the juroon ceremony, in tel diya custom the groom’s mother places a ring and a betel nut on the bride’s parting of the hair, pours oil on it and then applies sindoor or vermillion. Unlike other Hindu marriages, it’s the mother-in-law who puts sindoor on the bride and not the groom. Isn’t it fascinating to know? The bride will then carry on wearing the sindoor from thereon. She is also presented with other items such as coconut, fish, sweets and earthen pots. She then takes blessings of the groom’s family.
It’s the ceremonial duty of the mothers and other family members of both the bride and the groom to collect water from a nearby river or a pond for the ceremonial bath of the couple before the wedding. This is a ceremony performed at both the houses separately.
Daiyon diya - eating curd
The groom’s family sends curd or ‘doi’ in Assamese to the bride’s house early in the morning. She is supposed to eat a portion of it and send the remaining back for the groom to finish it. You can say it’s the last meal for both of them as singles before tying the knot.
Nuoni - ceremonial bath
Then comes the ceremonial bath. This ritual is similar to the haldi ceremony in the North. The mothers and other female members of the family apply a paste of curd, turmeric, oil and urad lentils to the bride and the groom. And to conclude the ceremony the water that was collected during the pani tula ritual is poured over their heads.
Another unique aspect of an Assamese wedding is that the reception is celebrated before the actual wedding for the bride. Dressed up in her wedding finery, the bride sits on a decorated stage and welcomes and greets all guests to her reception. Just before the groom is about to arrive, the bride is taken inside to change to her wedding trousseau, which was gifted by the groom’s side on the day of the juroon. Oh, and when it’s a wedding reception there has to be mention of food! You can feast on fish and meat dishes alongside other mouth-watering vegetarian menus.
Baraat - groom’s procession
Dressed in the wedding attire gifted by the bride’s family, the groom is ready to leave for the bride’s place. He takes the blessings of the mother before leaving with the baraat. Interestingly, the groom's mother doesn't accompany him to take part in the wedding ceremony, as it’s considered inauspicious. Now that’s something unheard of?
With the arrival of the groom starts the fun banter between both the parties. The bride’s side showers uncooked rice grains on the groom as he enters and the best man has to shield him with an umbrella. The bride’s mother welcomes the groom with a traditional arti and her sister washes his feet (also known as the bhori dhuwa ceremony). Another fun banter begins here! The groom has to pay a certain amount to his sister-in-law so she agrees to let him in for the wedding. Then the brother of the bride carries the groom to the wedding hall. The wedding ceremony begins thereafter.
The most awaited day of the wedding! The bride makes a grand entry on the shoulder of her maternal uncle or brothers at the mandap. The wedding ceremony takes place in front of the sacred fire where the couple exchange garlands or jaimala, chant the wedding vows after the priest and follow the various traditional ceremonial rituals. All family members, friends and other guests gather around the mandap. You’ll hear conch shells blowing at the backdrop and uruli sounds made by women. After the ceremony is over, elders bless the newlywed couple before bidaai. It’s time for the bride’s kins to bid a tearful goodbye to her.
On reaching the groom’s house, the mother of the groom welcomes the couple to the house. The bride enters the house by breaking a clay lamp with her feet. She’s then taken to the prayer room and later the couple goes around seeking blessings of elders in the family.
Yes, you heard it right! You are lucky if you attend an Assamese wedding as you can be part of not just one but two wedding receptions. How cool is that! This second function is organized by the groom’s family signifying bringing home the new bride. An elaborate feast is served for family, friends and guests. Members of the bride’s family and her close friends are also invited to this reception.
Aathmangla - bride visiting her paternal house after marriage
On the eight day of marriage, the newlyweds along with a few members of the groom’s family visit the bride’s paternal home. You’ll see the bride’s family giving a warm welcome to the groom’s side and hosting an elaborate lunch for the guests. Usually, it’s the same day that the bride, her husband and her in-laws return to her husband’s place. But, that’s not always the case if they have to travel far.
The groom wears a traditional silk dhoti and kurta and drapes Cheleng - a traditional Assamese style shawl over his shoulders. All of these outfits are preferred in Muga Silk. A rare silk fabric of Assam, which was earlier reserved only for the royalty! An Assamese groom is also made to wear a wreath and garland of Indian basil leaves, which is also a mark of a traditional Assamese wedding.
The bride, on the other hand, is dressed in a fine attire called Mekhela Chador. It looks similar to a traditional saree. It consists of 2-3 pieces and is draped in its own distinct style. One part is worn as a skirt which is textured and heavy, and has a broad embroidered border. The second part is lighter and worn as a pallu (the part that hangs loose in a saree). The wedding outfit of the bride too is preferred in Muga in off-white or cream color and with intricate gold and silver thread work on it. With changing times, brides have adopted different color variations too. Fashion forward! The bride’s jewelry is also influenced by the tribal culture of the state. Some of the most popular designs you’ll see on an Assamese bride includes designs like Jun Biri (an eye-catching crescent shaped jewellery with intricate designs) in gold for neck and ears and gamkharus - a large and wide bangle.