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A Persian Wedding, 1885
Islamic History Sourcebook

All is ready; the master of the house, dressed in his best, gives a last anxious glance at the preparations, and has an excited discussion with his wife or wives. He waves his hand to the musicians, and hurries to a seat near the door, to be ready to welcome his guests; the music strikes up a merry tune (it is really an air---barbaric, but inspiriting); the tremendous din of the dohol is heard at intervals. Then in a loud scream rises the voice of the principal solo singer, who commences one of the sad love-songs of Persia in a high falsetto voice. His face reddens with his exertions, which last through a dozen verses. His eyes nearly start from his head, the muscles of his neck stand out like ropes; but he keeps correct time on the big tambourine, which he plays with consummate skill. The rest of the musicians watch his every movement, and all join in the chorus of "Ah! Leila, Leila, you have made roast meat of my heart!" The music is the signal to the invited guests; they now commence to arrive in crowds. The music and singing proceed, and go on unceasingly till the bride leaves for her husband's home some ten hours after the artists begin. As the guests pour in, the host receives them with transports of pleasure---all the extravagant compliments of Eastern politeness pass between them. "May your wedding be fortunate!" "You are, indeed, welcome; this is a never-to-be-forgotten honor to me, your slave!" In they pour, the men in their best; the women, closely veiled, pass on unnoticed by the men into the anderun, where they unveil and appear to their delighted hostesses in their finest clothes and all their jewelry; and, we are sorry to add, in most cases with their faces carefully painted. As the dresses worn among Persian ladies for indoor use only reach to the knee and are very much bouffé, their wearers look like opera dancers. The ladies' feet and legs are bare, as a rule; a gauze shirt of gay color and a tiny zouave jacket daintily embroidered with gold lace on velvet or on satin are worn, while the head is decorated with a large kerchief of silk or gauze, elaborately embroidered with gold thread. From beneath this kerchief the hair falls in innumerable plaits behind, sometimes reaching almost to the ground. The colors of their clothes are of the brightest---pinks, greens, yellows, starlets, crimsons, blues. The quantity of solid jewelry worn in honor of the bride is prodigious.

Every one takes tea, every one crunches the sweets of various kinds which are piled on china dishes in huge trays in the center of the rooms. Several hundredweight of confectionery---not food, but "sweets"----are thus consumed. Conversation goes on, pipes are smoked by both men and women. Messages pass between the two courtyards. But the men remain in their quarters, and the women in theirs. The musicians and buffoons are allowed, however, in the women's court on these occasions: they are supposed to be mere professional persons, and on this account are tolerated. At noon a heavy breakfast is served. If there be two hundred guests, there is meat for them and for, say, four hundred servants and.hangers-on, while what remains, a still larger portion, is given to the poor.

Lutis or buffoons now bring their performing monkeys or bears---often a miserable and half-starved lion cowed by much beating. They dance, they sing songs, indecent enough in themselves, but tolerated in the East on such occasions. More tea, more ices, more sherbet, more sweets. Pipes without number pass from hand to hand, but no strong drink; that is never seen or tasted, save by the musicians and buffoons, who as the day wanes are freely supplied. The bride meanwhile goes to the bath, whither she is accompanied by many of the ladies, the friends and near relatives of the family.

Dinner is served on the same lavish scale as the breakfast. Fowls by the hundred, boiled to rags, under piles of various-colored rice; lambs roasted whole, or boiled in fragments; mutton in savory stews; game and venison hot on the spit; kababs and pilaws of endless variety; soups, sweets, fruit in profusion: all this is served with the lavishness of true Oriental hospitality.

And now there is a hum of suspense. It is night; and the whole place is lighted up by lamps, candles in shades, and lanterns. A noise of a distant crowd is heard; alms in money are freely distributed among the crowd of beggars and poor at the door; horses are brought for the bride and her friends. The procession of the bride groom is approaching: and it must be understood that another grand party has been going on at his father's house. The musicians play and sing their loudest: the roofs (the flat roofs of the East) are thronged by all the women and children of the quarter. The bridegroom and his friends arrive, and are welcomed by the women with a peculiar echoing cry of "Kel lel lel," produced by tapping the cheeks. Then the bride appears, carefully veiled in a huge sheet of pink and spangled muslin. She goes to the door and mounts a gayly-caparisoned horse. All the male guests join the procession. Lighted cressets full of blazing embers are carried on high poles to lead and light the way. The lanterns of all the guests are lighted and borne in this procession, which joyfully wends its way through a cheering crowd. At the moment the bride leaves her father's house a shout of "Kel lel lel" announces the fact. Fireworks blaze, the music is deafening, above all is heard the monotonous banging of the wedding drum. And so, the buffoons and musicians leading the way, the procession slowly moves on. As it approaches the house of the bridegroom several sheep are sacrificed in honor of the bride; they are slain at her feet as she steps over her husband's threshold for the first time, accompanied by a female friend or two. Then, invoking blessings on the pair, all wend their way home, and the festival is over.



From: Eva March Tappan, ed., The World’s Story: A History of the World in Story, Song and Art, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), Vol. II: India, Persia, Mesopotamia, and Palestine, pp. 411-420.
Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg

Note: Many Western sources about Islamic countries exhibit what has come to be known as orientalism. The terms used ("Mohammedan" for instance rather than "Muslim"), and the attitudes exhibited by the writers need to be questioned by modern readers.


This text is part of the Internet Islamic History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use of the Sourcebook.

© Paul Halsall, November1998


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