Wedding traditions

A wedding is an important event in the Central Asian countries, which is celebrated extensively. It is not uncommon for families to go into debt to be able to celebrate the children’s wedding on a large scale. Attending a wedding in Central Asia is definitely a very special and unforgettable experience.

After the bride price has been negotiated, the engagement follows, in which the parents play an important role. In Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, the mother-in-law gives the young woman earrings as a gift. She sticks it right in her ears and the engagement is fixed.

In Uzbekistan the wedding celebration begins in the early morning with the “Morningplov”. The traditional rice dish is prepared in large kettles (kazan).

Around noon, the feast continues with a ritual in the groom’s house. Karnay and Surnay, the traditional musical instruments, announce the son’s wedding in the neighborhood. Traditional dishes are served. In the following video you can see and hear the typical long brass instrument karnay.

After that, the wedding procession (groom with his friends) used to walk to the bride’s house in former times. Today they go by car convoy. But the last few meters  still they walk accompanied by the instruments Karnay, Surnay, Doira and Nagora.

In the richly decorated house of the bride, the family is already waiting for the groom’s arrival. A table is laid for him and his friends in a separate room. Traditional dishes are also served here, which the bride’s family with their friends and guests usually eat separately according to men and women, while the bride dresses up and prepares herself in a separate room to tearfully say goodbye to her parents’ house. Especially in the countryside, plov is traditionally cooked by men in the garden in big Kazan.

The bride leaves her home with her husband. Together with their friends, they go to popular places in the city to take wedding photos before continuing in the evening with the big celebration in one of the elegant wedding salons with hundreds of guests. The traditional musicians have positioned themselves in front of the wedding salon and play again and again as the guests arrive gradually. Finally, the wedding couple arrives and moves into the wedding salon with great cheering, accompanied by Karnay and Surnay.

A long day full of rituals ends up in the wedding salon with mostly very loud modern music and a lot of delicious food in several courses.

Of course there are regional differences in the details, but essentially this is how an Uzbek wedding proceeds. The celebrations are very similar in the other Central Asian countries. The musical instruments karnay and surnay, which are an integral part of wedding celebrations in Uzbekistan, can also be found in Tajikistan, sometimes also at Uighur weddings, but not in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan.

In addition to giving money as a gift, which helps to cover at least part of the high costs, clothes also play an important role in Central Asian weddings. Traditional coats (chapan) are presented, in Kyrgyzstan also traditional headwear for men (kalpak) or fabrics and shawls. Close family members give items of clothing made from high-quality materials as gift. Today, people who are less closely related usually choose cheap imported goods from China. In earlier times, fine silk fabrics and kalpaks made of high-quality felt were selected as gift. Not only the bride and groom themselves receive presents, but also the parents. Even the guests are sometimes gifted. For example, at some wedding celebrations, it is customary to slip shawls or banknotes to dancing guests. When saying goodbye, the guests are given not only leftover food. You will often also receive a gift, usually a household item such as a cake platter.

In the frame of some weddings even two celebrations in a wedding salon take place, one hosted by the bride’s family and the other by the groom’s.

Here are some impressions from a Uyghur wedding in Almaty / Kazakhstan. The traditional musicians play in front of the wedding salon, and dancers and stilt-walkers offer a colorful, lively show.

In the wedding salon, the colorful female doppa (traditional headwear) and the blue / green male indicate which tables are provided for women and men in the richly decorated wedding salon.

Bride in Uzbek language means Kelin. But it does not mean exactly the same as the word bride for us. The young married woman in Uzbekistan will be called Kelin for 40 days. She is now living with the family of her husband. When she moves there, the ritual of “Kelin Salom” – greeting her new family and neighbors – is performed. She will wear a traditional dress for this ceremony. Here you can see impressions of a “Kelin Salom” in Boysun/Surkhandarya region, Uzbekistan:

At the celebration in the wedding salon, the bride wears a white, western wedding dress. For “Kelin Salom” or Kazakh “Salom Beru” the bride wears a traditonal dress and a veil, which she holds on to the ends with her fingers and makes ritual bows to each person who greets her. She will do this in front of the in-laws and older relatives for 40 days. During this time, she will hide from the male family members in the house. For this time she has her own clothes, in Uzbekistan a whole wardrobe with numerous colorful dresses and veils, one for each day.

Here is a small selection of traditional uzbek Kelin dresses and veils:

In Kyrgyzstan, the “Kelin” has one special dress and a white veil for the 40 days after her wedding. Kelin also means daughter-in-law and that is how the older family members call her from now on.

Many thanks to our friends from the music group Shodlik, whom we were allowed to accompany to various wedding celebrations in Tashkent!