By "Madge" (Mrs. Humphry)
Zoroaster on Marriage - Liberty of a Parsi Woman
The Parsis came originally from Persia, and in religion are followers of Zoroaster. A picturesque but homeless people, they have now settled in India, chiefly at Bombay, and have, as might be expected, a very striking ceremonial for marriage. The saree, the folds enveloping the head and the greater portion of the gown, proves extremely becoming to dark-haired women, and the white robes of the priests, with their snowy caps, or turbans, lend to the effectiveness of the scene.
Marriages among the Parsis are, as is the case in many Eastern countries, arranged by a matchmaker. He is usually a priest, and his general knowledge of those among whom he officiates gives him special acquaintance with suitable partis. When he has found a suitable bride, the family of the bridegroom immediately send a request to the bride's father for her horoscope. This, with the young man's horoscope, is submitted to an astrologer. It is his business to consult the stars and discover whether the two horo-scopes combined promise future happiness for the pair. Should this not be so, all idea of the match is abandoned; but should he pronounce favourably, preparations are at once begun. For weeks before the marriage preliminaries are being arranged in the case of the well-to-do. Four-fifths of the Parsis are wealthy.
The ceremony itself generally takes place about sunset, and, in the case of Persians of position, is performed at the Fire Temple with full ceremonial. The entrance is gaily decorated with flags and wreaths of flowers, both real and artificial, and after dusk is brilliantly illuminated with thousands of oil-lamps.
Parsi ladies. One of the striking features of their marriage customs is that their horoscope, together with that of their fiance, is submitted to an astrologer. Should the horoscope not predict future happiness the union is abandoned
The bridegroom and his friends and relatives arrive first at the Fire Temple, where sun-worship is conducted, accompanied by the male members of the bride's family, and there follows the presentation of handsome silk shawls by the bride's father to the bridegroom's father, and vice versa. Then comes the bride's mother, bearing a silver tray containing cocoanuts and rice. This she passes three times round the bridegroom's head, while some unmarried girls, beautifully dressed in soft silks and filmy sarees, sing some verses in his praise.
This finished, the striking up of a band of music announces the approach of the bride and her party, whereupon the bridegroom and the officiating priests take their places on a raised dais, over which is a floral canopy. Under this two handsome chairs are placed, and on these the bridal pair take their seats, facing each other. Between them is held a piece of cloth completely veiling each from the other. The bridal pair hold each other's hands under this curtain, and another piece of cloth is placed round both chairs and tied in a double knot. Next a skein of raw, twisted silk is wound seven times round the pair by the priests, prayers being offered up during the process. The final part of this initial ceremony is the tying of the twist seven times round the joined hands of the couple and round the double knot of the encircling cloth.
Incense is then placed on a small brazier, and lighted, prayers still continuing to be offered up by the priests. A dramatic moment is when the dividing cloth is suddenly loosened, and the bride and bridegroom, previously provided with a few grains of rice, make haste to throw them at each other. The one who first succeeds is supposed to feel the greater affection. The attendant maidens clap their hands during this interesting little episode.
The chairs are then placed side by side, and the bridal pair sit down while the two principal priests take a position in front of them, and recite a long list of blessings in ancient Persian, punctuating each sentence by throwing a few grains of rice at the pair from trays placed conveniently near.
The ceremony is an hour long, and concludes with the following blessing, pronounced by the principal priest : "May the omnipotent Lord bless you with many sons and grandsons, with good livelihood, heart-ravishing friendship, long life, and an existence of one hundred and fifty years ! "
The parents are now asked by the priest if the marriage has had their full consent, and the bride and bridegroom are also asked if they agree to live together in harmony to the end of their lives. This custom differs from our Western ceremonial in these queries being made after the ceremony instead of before. If all answer in the affirmative, the prayers and blessings are again read in Sanskrit, and the marriage certificate is signed by the newly wedded couple, their parents, and the officiating priests.
A Parsi wedding is a scene of almost unparalleled brilliancy. The men all wear light-coloured garments, the women and children silks of every colour, with gold and silver embroideries, and a luxury of jewels, which make the figures of the women all sparkle in the brilliant light of the East.
Dr. Kapadia, in his fascinating little volume, "The Teachings of Zoroaster," tells us that " the household of a man of well-regulated mind is a peaceful domain whereof he is the lord, with his worthy consort, both entwined together and actuated by that religious affinity which the Zoro-astrian religion, by wise and philosophical precepts, never fails to infuse."
Implicit obedience is required from wife to husband, but otherwise in every way the former enjoys equality with the latter, and absolute liberty of action, with the result that among modern Parsis divorce is unknown. The creed of Zoroaster is a very beautiful one, and in some instances foreshadows the teaching of many of the best men of the last thousand years.