SUR, a Pamiri wedding


Text by Fred Daudon and Kimatshoev Parpisho


SUR means wedding in the different languages spoken in the valleys of Pamir. It is one of the family feast days which absorbed the most ancient traditions of Arian culture. This day is equally important of the Khidir Ayom (Navruz) – the « significant feast day » which is always celebrated on March 21st, the day of veral equinox.

Even during Soviet times, the Pamiri wedding did not change although komsomol weddings were propagandized and encouraged.

Pamiri wedding is mostly inspired by celestial bodies and pre-islamic cults. The wedding’s traditions are indeed similar to Khidir Ayom’s. We can note a parallel between the spring festival and the resurgence of life and the wedding which is still considered as the first step of establishing a family and bringing new life.


In ancient times, if a young woman for some reasons did not get married then she was symbolically engaged with a fruit tree, preferably a mulberry tree. In this way, caring for the tree rather than a husband, she would fulfil her duty. After her death, her soul finds its eternal retreat in heaven.

Seduction and Gifts

In Pamir region, the man and the woman decide together of their engagement. It is however submitted to both families and always conditioned to their agreement (on the dowry).

After the pledge, the khismunj (the young man) pays a visit to the khismenz (the young woman) house with their respective families. This visit is called guftugu.

« We come to ask you for life » This is how the father of khismunj opens the conversation when he first enters the khismenz house. He offers her family presents called sufra. That includes 3 meters of red cloth for the wedding dress and dried fruits. Sweet food and mulberries especially are thought of as heaven born and are a symbol of fertility and happy life. Only after the groom’s departure, the family will consult the bride and then make a decision. If sufra is sent back to the groom’s house it will mean a refusal, if it stays at the bride’s, it implies an agreement.

After the bride’s agreement, the visits that follow (named khekhitilapt), the bride’s family will be offered more food – flour, zirdrughan or bakhbust, a sheep to be sacrified for the weeding – and clothing, including shoes, a coast and the red shawls that will cover the bride’s face during the wedding ceremony (only if it is the first time she gets married).


Jomaburon is a bride’s family day only. It is the day on which the bride’s clothes are tailored. All female relatives who are skilled at sewing come to her home to lend a hand.

Khukhsur, the preparations for the wedding also includes the bride’s dowry which consists of two bundles of beddings and bedclothes, carpets, namad – felt mat. The beddings have a special meaning. In case a wife takes her bedding to her parents house then the marriage can be considered over.

The khalifa (caliph – local religious leader) is consulted to choose the most favorable days for each step of the wedding.


During this day an engagement will take place before the Creator. The ceremony takes place in the bride’s house. Parents do not participate at the ceremony. In a favorable day and hour, the groom, the khalifa, the groom’s father , some very close relatives as well as two « pashko » – the groom’s best men, who accompany him on the wedding day.

For more than 2000 years, the bride has been sitting with her close friends near the third pillar of the Pamiri house – the Kicor Sitan which symbolises the Goddess Anahita. In Ismailiam this pillar is associated with Bibi Fotimai Zahro, daughter of the prophet Muhammad and wife of Ali, the cousin of the prophet. It is a symbol of love, beauty and loyalty. Unmarried young women sit there with one hope… there is a traditional belief according to which if an unmarried woman sits near the bride during Niko and Sur, she will get married. The bride’s family invites a person who knows the text of Niko. He will act as the assistant of the khalifa and make sure that everyone is at the right place and do the right things according to the traditions.

Fumigating the house is starting the ceremony. A cup of water, a piece of cooked mutton and two flat breads that symbolize the couple are placed on a wooden plate, covered with a red cloth and placed by the fire. The khalifa leads the ceremony and concludes it by asking three times the couple whether they agree to become husband and wife. When he receives the nodding approval of the bride, he cuts two pieces of meat from the bone, breaks off two pieces of the bread and puts them together in the cup of water, which he then blesses and offers to the couple. The groom takes a sip first, followed by the bride. The rest of the water is taken outside by two witnesses who pour it down the roots of a fruit tree in the garden.


Fumigation is one of the most common traditions of the mountainous people of Pamir. A house is fumigated before someone’s travel, at wedding ceremonies, before circumcise, at building a new house or a shop, on Friday night and in many other ceremonies. « Strakhm » is burned on zingak above the heart. Before fumigating the house, it is mandatory to wash hands.

Strakhm (Helichrysum maracandicum) is picked at fall. It is mixed with a small quantity of heated oil and this mixture is mixed with hands. This mixture is not fired, it is slightly burned and a fragrant fume spread all inside the house.

According to a myth of ancient Iranians when creating the universe, Ahura Mazda splashed his perspiration to the earth with his hand and as a result strakhm sprouted, and its odor fended incubus and attracts good genius. This myth was also adopted by Ismailism, strakhm is also called as Araki Rasul or perspiration of Allah’s Messenger.

In ancient times, this plant had an important role in medicine. This herb has been known long time in traditional medicine. Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and other mentioned strakhm in their words;in Ferdowsy there is also a reference about this plant that is fumigated before each fight between Iranian fighters.


Khukh Sur is the last day of preparation to the wedding. During the day, two persons nominated by the families will invite the neighborhood and local people to the wedding.

The groom has first a ritual bath which « cleanse » the corpse to the initial purity.

The house will be fumigated with strakhm. The ceremony of dressing starts at this very moment.

Water – in the ancient mythology is a symbol of woman but also a symbol which unites the sky (heaven), the man (earth) and the woman (water). It symbolizes loyalty. Kharvatat was the God of Water. Zoroaster used water for the spiritual and physical cure, performing ablution to cure people.


The ceremony of dressing starts with haircut and shaving.


Bretons have their bagad, Pamiri have their daftoz. All the rituals, including this ceremony, is accompanied by music with up to 5 daf (tambourine), and songs and dances. The first music for the shaving and dressing of the groom is sartaroshon.

Shoh, the king

Only on the wedding day the khalifa is overshadowed by the groom who remains the most honored and respected person. It is the groom who is offered water to wash his hands first. When the groom enters the house with his suite all the guests stand to show their respect and welcome them.

The groom is considered as Shoh which means king. All his wished should be fulfilled.

The groom’s suit is fumigated.

After the groom is dressed, a red piece of cloth is put in his breast pocket.

The masters of ceremonies

The khalifa (on the left hand side) is the local religious leader who is nominated by Aga Khan.

The yasavul (on the right hand side) has been chosen by the groom because of his religious knowledge. He is running the whole ceremony with the khalifa.


The relatives are congratulating their king. After having food, a limited number of relatives and friends go to the bride’s house.

They sing Sho ravo rav – the king leaves the house.

Shoi mo dar safare

Meaning: Our King is on a journey.

On the way to the bride’s house, the procession is stopped by children and adults. Those who do this should say a prayer for the wellbeing of the groom. Then they get some money reward. One of the groom’s companions gives money which was collected during the dressing ritual.

Shohi mo omad

Shohi mo omad – our king arrived.

When the groom’s group approaches the bride’s house, this is what they sing. The uncle of the bride (normally the father) is welcoming the king.


Two paskhoh are selected by the Shoh (king). In old times, someone could « steal » the groom and the paskhoh had to pay a ransom to get the groom back. During the wedding, one paskhoh will sit at groom’s place in his absence so that dev or incubus will not take his place. It goes the same with the bride’s.

As soon as the groom’s group reaches the doorstep of the bride’s house, the house is fumigated with strakhm. When the shoh enters the house, the music changes to Shoh daromad khonae – the king entered the house.

THE bride

Red and white colors are harmoniously embodied in the traditions of the Pamir mountainous people. The red color is the favorite color of the Arian culture. This color is more applied in the wedding ceremonies of the mountainous people. Red headgear of the groom and bride, red handkerchiefs, red shawl, bride’s red dresses, a red cloth which is used to tie the bride’s portion, a piece of red cloth which is also used to tie the bride’s dowry, handmade red woolen braids « pechak » and so on. Red color is the symbol of fire, sun and blood, symbol of life and eternity.

End of the prayer – « cleaning » their face with their hands.


When the groom enters the house, it is between these two pillars representing Hasan and Husein (sons of Ali and Fatima) that he is welcomed with a cup of shiroghan covered with a red cloth

Noni rughan

Noni Rughan is a traditional meal of a wedding. It consists of two handmade breads, baked in kitsor, poured with hot milk and melted butter. This meal is eaten by hands only.

Shai Shid

The bride’s dressing process is hold close to the third pillar, kitsor sitan – symbol of goddess Anahita and Fatima Zahro (daughter of the prophet Muhammed and spouse of Ali).

Two plaits are made from the bride’s hair with woolen handmade plaits called pechak and two small plaits are done at the forehead called khokhak. These plaits are symbols of a bride.Hands are colored with henna, eyes with graphite and a black stone called bundge.

Someone helps the bride to get dressed into two red dresses, then a white three meters material is wrapped around her face and head and about six shawls are put on her head (all except one are thrown over her back while the first covers her face).


Bride’s relatives are touching the zingak, bringing her fingers to her lips then to her forehead as if kissing it. This implies farewell with her parents’ house. The groom does the same. The dowry is taken out and sent to the groom’s house.


On the way back to the groom’s house, the procession can again be stopped by someone who will ask for money and make prayers for the health and happiness of the newlyweds.

Once arrived at the groom’s place, the bride is first met by her mother-in-law who becomes automatically his new mum. At the doorstep a sheep is sacrificed for the traditional plov.


A young man takes a bow and an arrow and says the following while lifting the veil from the bride’s face: « Se padar, se modar » (three fathers, three mothers).

The ritual of pitspatchid continues. He lifts the fidoi (veil) twice and the third time he lifts it and puts at the back. Thus he becomes the third father of the bride, called in Shugni ped.

Teh he comes down to the centre of the room and shoot symbolically the arrow through the hole on the celling called rudz or chorkhona. – which is the symbol of the four elements: fire, water, air and soil. The meaning of the tradition is to ask the creator to grant the family with a boy, symbol of men power and the one who will continue the kinship.

The three fathers will be her father, her father-in-law and her ped. Her three mothers will be her mother, her mother-in-law and the ped‘s wife. In old times, it had a very practical meaning. If the woman was married to someone living in a very remote place, she would have lost all connections with her parents and her relatives. In case she had any problem she could have consulted her ped. He can interfere into their family problems and solve them peacefully.


After this ritual, the newlyweds are offered a meal called chikash. In a wooden bowl (tothch), the hot flat bread is crumbled and poured with heated butter and this mixture is pressed so the bread absorbs the melted butter. In most places sugar is strewed on the edges of the bowl. The khalifa took the bowl around the pillar symbolizing the Prophet Muhammad three times, asking the creator to fulfill the newlyweds’ wishes and dreams.

The khalifa then prays for them and wishes the newlyweds sweet and pure love.

This meal is meant for newlyweds only.




A meal is always following another. The wedding continues till late at the restaurant.


It is time to rest and clean the fruits.



Everytime the shoh and his queen leave or enter the house, they are accompanied by songs and daf.

RUSSIAN- Style wedding

After the traditional wedding the day before, it is time to organize a big party. On this day, relatives and neighbors and friends are invited. This kind of wedding flaunt a large dancehall in Khorog, gaudy chandeliers and limousines with tinted windows.

The Tajik government passed a law to limit the duration (3 hours) and the number of guests (150 max) to prevent families from going bankrupt.

The mother-in-law and the uncle of the bride