A traditional Bangladeshi wedding includes rituals and ceremonies that can span several days. My experience began with preparations for our Gaye Holud ceremony. Tribal ladies from the ‘Fair Touch’ parlour in Chittagong arrived at ‘beau basha’ equipped with henna cones. As I made myself comfortable the women set to work artfully creating a magical second skin, a one off display of intricate designs . The henna was applied at rapid speed and the well practised tattooists applied the smelly fluid effortlessly. As the henna dried it flaked away revealing a tangerine stain where the henna had been. This gradually deepened in colour to form a dark oak shade. It is believed that the darker the henna dries the stronger the marital bond will be.
The Gaye Holud or turmeric ceremonies (also known as “yellowing the body”) take place before the wedding ceremony. Traditionally there are separate turmeric ceremonies for the bride and groom though due to the unusual circumstances ours was a combined celebration. The women in Nufel’s extended family smeared course turmeric paste directly onto our skin which had a pleasantly exfoliating effect. Following sufficient smearing our relatives then poured water over our heads to represent a ceremonial washing…
It was then time to play dress up! On backless chairs the female Chowdhourys moved along a conveyor belt of mirrors in Apu’s bedroom waiting for the next ‘finishing touch’ – nails, hair, make up. I wore a red whilst the other women wore traditional green jamdani sarees. They were my team in green! Our Holud took place on the top floor of Ammu’s home….
Gaye Holud decorations at Ammu’s home – Chittagong, Bangladesh
That evening I remember my tight ‘Bridget Jones’ underwear courtesy of M&S, sweaty legs under concertinaed fabric, hot lights and colourful fabrics framing rooftop archways. I also recall endless bodies on plastic chairs watching us on a home made stage as photos were taken with friends and relatives. Nufel and I collapsed onto a rose petal bed late evening – our room smelling like a sweet florist with flowers draped happily and heavily between our sporadic room lights. I remember how we laid there smiling despite our exhaustion. We were now in another new home, Ammu and Abu’s home – now our permanent Chittagong residence.
Our Gaye Holud – My team in green!
Walima in literal translation means “to assemble” and is used to describe an assembly or party celebrating major life events. Walima is essentially interchangeable with American and English terms such as: wedding reception or celebration (when held to celebrate a marriage). Our Walima was celebrated on 2nd April 2012. My saree was a picture of needlework and detailing. In addition I wore the yellow gold jewellery traditionally gifted to new brides. Nufel wore a Sherwani jacket complete with hat and Nagra slippers….
Our Walima was undeniably overwhelming with approximately 17,000 guests in attendance. Due to my father-in-law’s presence the vast numbers that kept on arriving were difficult to control. No doubt the fact that we were a mixed couple having a very public celebration also drew in curious well wishers. Most who attended wholeheartedly welcomed me to Bangladesh and were keen to know how I was settling in, whether I was eating (a typical Bangladeshi concern!) and when my family were coming to visit.
The behaviour of other guests was more difficult for me to comprehend due to what can only be explained as different cultural practices. Upon our arrival a predominantly male majority stood resolutely in front of us – amateur cameramen with their mobile phones at arms length. They cautiously captured the foreigner’s every move. I smiled and accepted the attention warily but as graciously as I could. Nufel constantly sought to manage the crowd asking attendees politely but firmly to move along once they had their souvenir photo. On occasion guests showed little respect for our personal space as unknown faces sat so close so as to unfasten my headpiece and sudden over familiar strangers lent in for a picture that suggested we were long-lost buddies. Individuals came, families offered congratulations and political elites and dignitaries joined in the celebrations. I had never experienced anything like it. Back home I was (and remain) an average girl from an average, post-war town living an unsurprisingly average existence. What a start to my new life!