Classic Celebrations: Wedding Traditions in Uzbekistan (VIDEO)
Uzbekistan, home to three of the most renowned ancient caravan cities — Bukhara, Khiva, and Samarkand — holds pride of place in Central Asia as the heart and soul of the Silk Road. Many travelers come here in search of legendary history and the brilliant treasure trove of medieval art and architecture within its borders. But walking among magnificent mosques, minarets, and madrassahs, you’re bound to spot yet another common sight in Uzbekistan — young newlyweds promenading in the streets on their wedding day.
Weddings in Uzbekistan are spirited, multi-day affairs, full of feasting, dancing, and meaningful rituals and traditions than span hundreds of years of history. Involving family members, friends, and even entire communities, weddings mark an important lifetime event for the young couple as they transition into adulthood.
The following video, taken by MIR Travel Sales Assistant, Kevin Testa, offers a taste of a what you might see at a traditional wedding celebration in the streets of Uzbekistan:
The Rundown on the Wedding Day
The wedding day kicks off with not just one, but two massive celebrations: one held at the bride’s house, and another at the groom’s. Uzbek weddings are large and lively, with family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, distant relatives, or even an entire village invited to join in — on average, there may be as many as 200-300 total guests in attendance.
While the bride and groom are busy getting ready for the ceremony, everyone keeps themselves entertained with dancing, toasting to the new couple-to-be, and cooking up plenty of helpings of hearty, rich plov, Uzbekistan’s beloved national dish of meat and rice, to keep guests well-fed and happy during a long day of celebration.
At some point, the groom’s family will cook up a batch of plov to give to the bride’s guests, and the bride’s family does the same in return. This tradition has been a part of Uzbek wedding celebrations for generations, and is taken as a symbolic gesture of the two families coming together in harmony and celebration in honor of their children’s special day.
Just before the ceremony is about to start, the groom and a group of his closest male relatives and friends will parade through the streets en route to the bride’s house, accompanied by musicians and doira drummers. In some cities, such as Bukhara, street performers on stilts sometimes make an appearance during the procession.
Meanwhile, the bride and several female friends and relatives will be waiting for the groom to arrive. In keeping with tradition, the bride is required to hide herself from view behind a special screen or cloth, or inside a closed off room in her house, where only female family members are permitted to enter. Only when the groom arrives and greets her can she be allowed to step out from behind the covering.
A traditional Uzbek wedding dress actually resembles more of a tunic: the ensemble includes a long dressing gown and pants made from khan atlas, the most prized of Central Asian silk textiles. The bride also dons a long overcoat and embroidered coverlet for her hands, an indication of her “untouchable” status on her wedding day. A golden cap or crown and a long veil made from handmade lace covers her head. Everything is exquisitely embroidered with silk and gold thread woven into brilliant floral patterns.
These days, many Uzbek brides have opted to wear the billowing white princess gowns commonly seen throughout the Western half of the world. Some however are starting to bring back traditional wedding attire, or are finding ways to incorporate old-fashioned designs into a modern-day wedding.
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The groom’s wedding outfit isn’t quite as elaborate, but he does have the opportunity to wear a few special items: a chapan coat embellished with gold thread and an embroidered skullcap to wear during the wedding ceremony. These are specially presented to him by a male relative in the family on the day of his wedding, and signal his transition from boyhood to a full-fledged male member of the community.
Uzbek weddings are unique in that they typically take place in the bride’s family home instead of in a place of worship or other venue. This is a custom that stems back to ancient times, as a way of paying respect to the bride’s family.
Many significant rituals are incorporated into the wedding ceremony. One marriage rite involves the bride and groom looking into a mirror and, when asked what they see, announcing the name of their partner-to-be. The couple may also be served sweet cakes, rice, or honey to feed one another, an offering meant to ensure a long, sweet life together.
Once the ceremony is finished, another raucous procession begins as the newlyweds make their way through the streets to the groom’s house, announcing their marriage to passerbys and accompanied by friends and relatives cheering, singing, and dancing all the way. Traditionally, the bride is supposed to bid farewell to her mother and father before she departs, since she’ll be permanently leaving her family home to enter another. These days, the practice isn’t as strictly adhered to, and her parents often end up joining in on the fun at the after-party.
After the bride is officially welcomed into the groom’s family home during a special ceremony, another round of wedding festivities will commence. Feasting and dancing are, of course, a mandatory part of the celebration, and the partying can last all night into the wee hours of morning.
Like their counterparts in the West, Uzbek weddings weave games and traditions into the evening’s entertainment. In some parts of Uzbekistan, friends and relatives attempt to playfully “steal” the bride at some point during the night. The groom will chase after them and pay the “thieves” with a small token or monetary gift in order to redeem his bride.
In places such as Bukhara and Samarkand, the groom will perform a fire ritual in which he and his bride circle around a large bonfire three times before stepping foot inside the groom’s house for the first time. This custom has its roots in Zoroastrian tradition, and was likely performed as a blessing for purification.
When the bride and groom are ready to retire to their bedroom for the evening, they’ll be met by a yanga, someone who is usually a close female relative or friend of the bride. She’ll take the bride into the room to help her change out of her wedding outfit, while the groom will be forced to wait outside. In order to be allowed inside the bedroom, he’ll need to pay the yanga a gift to symbolically prove his right to keep his bride.
As guests continue to party long into the night, the door closes behind the young newlyweds, ready for rest after a long day of celebration — and even more festivities to look forward to in the days ahead.
Travel to Uzbekistan with MIR
MIR has more than 30 years of travel experience in Central Asia and has an affiliate office in Uzbekistan, with a roster of contacts that can take you to places that you didn’t even know you wanted to go. Our full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”
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You can also travel on one of MIR’s handcrafted private independent travel itineraries, Essential Uzbekistan or Essential Central Asia, or book a custom private journey. MIR specializes in personalized, private journeys, and we’d love to take your ideas and weave them into a trip tailored especially for you. Travel wherever, however, and with whomever you like, relying on our expert assistance. Contact us to find out more about our custom and private travel expertise – each trip handcrafted to your interests, dates and pace.
(Top Photo: A newlywed Uzbek couple at Gur Emir, Samarkand. Photo credit: Michel Behar.)
PUBLISHED: June 28, 2017