The most festive of the Bengali wedding ceremonies, the Gaye Holud is a joyous event filled with song, dance, laughter and a ridiculous amount of food consumption. Literally translating to “turmeric on the body,” originally, this ceremony used to be a small one, where family and friends of the bride and groom would attend their respective homes a few days before the wedding, to celebrate and to apply a special paste, made largely of turmeric on their faces and bodies. Now, you may ask, why turmeric? It was largely supposed to be a beautification process, enhanced with other ingredients such as sandalwood and rosewater, this paste is supposed to cleanse and exfoliate the skin and leave you with soft, supple glowing skin on your wedding day, when the everyone you know (or the whole town) comes to see you. For some families, it had it even greater meaning as turmeric was supposed to ward off evil spirits or an evil eye before the auspicious wedding day.
Fast forward to today, and specifically to my Gaye Holud, the actual application of the turmeric paste was largely just ceremonial. The event itself gave us another reason to exchange gifts, sing, dance, let our hair down and really celebrate. So what happened on the day and how did we prepare for it?
Naveed and I decided to have our Gaye Holud together in one ceremony. Some families choose to host two separate events for the bride and groom , but we wanted to celebrate together and honestly could not imagine adding another event to the already long list of events.
The morning started with the first delivery of gifts or dalas, as Naveed’s sisters, cousins and brothers-in-law delivered to my house, sweets for my family, and two ginormous fish dressed up as a bride and groom. I don’t know exactly how dressing up fish became a common practice at weddings but I must admit seeing fish dressed in full costume is rather amusing. The rest of the gifts were to be exchanged at the event and I’ll be writing a whole post on our Holud Dalas very soon, otherwise this one will become exceedingly long.
When it comes to preparations, the Holud requires the most rigorous, time-consuming, coordinated and exhausting prep. Why? Because almost every item which is presented to the bride and groom, for every one of the upcoming events is beautifully decorated and presented in extraordinary gift baskets. Not only this, but the gifts for immediate family members, and extended family members too, are often carefully wrapped and presented in such dalas. Naveed and I both have families who well and truly like getting creative with our gift ideas, so needless to stay we spent months planning and creating these dalas which were brought in and displayed on the night of our Holud.
And that’s just the start of it. Friends and younger family members, such as cousins, also put together elaborate dance and vocal performances, skits and plays for the attendees, and for the bride and groom. For our Holud, our beloved friends and family put together an entire comical musical illustrating how Naveed and I met, and how the meeting eventually transformed into marriage. As you can imagine, this required great efforts and many nights of rehearsals and practice.
Preparations also included all the other general things you would think of planning and preparing for a wedding including venue décor, music and menu selection. Although many choose to incorporate multiple colours into the décor of the Holud to mark its joyousness, we decided to go with a theme which is not often done in Bangaldeshi weddings; rustic glam. We incorporated elements of a rustic garden, including pots, plants, burlap and barrels with glamorous elements such as chandeliers and intricate woodwork and ended up with creations such a ceiling adorned with vine-twined chandeliers.
And did I forget to mention that the bride and groom make a special entrance on the day, which was also prepared in accordance with the theme? For me, it was a carriage. Yes, a carriage. One that was designed and decorated by my dearest mother (she did this in a cast and with a broken leg). The groom often walks into the venue under a beautiful traditional fabric held over his head (as opposed to being wheeled in, or carried on a palanquin like a bride), but we decided to change it up a little. We designed a wire umbrella, which was adorned with flowers as a replacement for the fabric, and hired what is essentially a Bangladeshi folk marching band to announce his arrival.
Once we entered the venue, we sat on a stage on which there was also a delicious arrangement of edibles, sweet and savoury. After we took our seats, which was preceded by plenty of dancing and celebrating, the Rakhi ritual took place. It’s a rather quick ritual where the parents of the bride tie a rakhi, a traditional decorative bracelet, on the wrist of the groom, and the parents of the groom tie a rakhi on the wrist of the bride to symbolise unity.
Naveed’s especially designed bead rakhi – because he wouldn’t put on anything glittery
Following the rakhi exchange the guests were welcome to come up to the stage, apply some Holud to our faces and our hands, feed us a little something and wish us well for our lives ahead. This continued till the end of the night, only pausing during the time of the performances.
One of my favourite about these rituals are that they not religious rituals at all, in fact the entire event has no religious basis, and is rather a cultural celebration. Bangladesh is melting pot of different cultures, and we have adopted elements of Indian, Arabic, Pakistani and even Anglo-American rituals into our own. This is one of the reasons Bangladeshi wedding celebrations are so unique, and it’s also why I find writing about them so enjoyable.
This event was so incredibly festive and fun, and looking back at it makes me want to live it all over again.
In my upcoming posts, I will be writing about our looks and attires, how we chose them, and of course our Holud dalas and the inspirations behind them. Watch this space for new content, and for the meantime here are two trailers from the event 🙂