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The Proposal (Baleh-boran)
What Is the Baleh-boran?
In Baleh-boran, the khastegar formally asks for the girl’s hand in marriage.
But the Persian wedding courtship proposal is far more than a spontaneous question: it is the opportunity of the bride’s family to look closely and deeply at the groom, his character and his prospects and ask what he will bring to the marriage. Baleh-boran is also the occasion when the bride’s family actively negotiates on behalf of the girl, to make sure that the prospective husband brings quite enough to the union to ensure the brides financial independence and comfort as well.
Incidentally, the groom is not the only one to bring gifts during the Baleh-boran. It’s common for the groom’s parents also to bring gifts for the bride. Traditionally, they say, this was done in order to better entice the potential bride to accept the groom. The gifts given during this ceremony may include a single piece of cloth for sewing a gown or in more modern times jewelry for the bride.
The Farsi Word For “Yes”
“Baleh” is the Farsi word for “yes”; and the entire Baleh-boran revolves around the supreme moment when the possible bride-to-be looks at the potential groom-to-be and says to him, “Yes – I will marry you.”
But the richness of the Baleh-boran process is far more intricate – and much more fun – than that simple question and answer.
Like the Khastegari, of which the Baleh-boran is in many ways a natural extension, the Baleh-boran serves several purposes, not least of which is a deepening of the familiarity between the respective families of the potential bride and groom.
Every marriage is individual and concerns primarily the individuals who are marrying; but as you’ve probably learned by now, Persian marriages seem at times to be as familial as they are personal, as much a public event as a private union. It can often appear as though not just a madly in love couple but whole clans have come together to merge and feel one another out and (of course) party, which is what makes this stage and every stage of a Persian wedding, such a joy.
However, the Baleh-boran also raises the stakes and deepens the intimacy as well as the commitment between the parties. It is a further meeting that continues the ongoing negotiations between families, but one that also now takes it to a higher level of seriousness.
In the same way, it is another opportunity for the candidate groom (the khastegar) and his intended to meet, but not only that: now it further allows the groom and his possible bride-to-be to talk about their potential marriage in private.
In short, it is the moment when possibility crystallizes into reality, when romantic dreams take on form and become fact: the moment when the groom formally proposes marriage and is formally accepted or turned down. It is the beginning or the end.
And what if everything goes well? Then the Baleh-boran will ultimately lead to the even more ecstatic celebrations of the Namzadi – the official engagement party – or the Shirini-Khoran – a formal courting period with a promise to be married.
The Parent’s Gifts
In some traditions, one elegant touch in the Baleh-boran is that the groom’s parents often give gifts to the bride. Small gifts are a part of almost every wedding-ceremony-related meeting, of course, and are generally intended to convey a message as much as to present a gift.
The message here is that the groom’s parents accept and welcome the bride and wish to entice acceptance of the bride and her family to definitely accept the groom.
The parent’s gifts in this instance may be small, symbolism being the main object, but it’s not uncommon for a touch of gift-giving extravagance to develop at this point, particularly if things have gone well and it seems that the bride’s acceptance is now all but certain.
Like all events leading up to the wedding, the Baleh-boran is hosted in the prospective bride’s home. The khastegar and his family are, again, politely welcomed into the home of the bride for another meeting. Again, many family members of both families are present, including elders. Close friends of either family may also be attending.
But only very close friends this time: compared to other Persian wedding events, the Baleh-boran and the Khastegari are somewhat private. The reason is that, while it is generally expected that the meetings between all parties involved will turn out well, negotiations between families do on occasion fail and marriage does not take place.
In the event that things do not work out, the families, naturally, would not want anyone sharing the perhaps uncomfortable details with the entire community. Hence less-than-close friends of the family (or known gossips) are rarely invited. Also generally excluded from these events are girls who may steal the attention of the khastegar and – of course – anyone not wishing the couple well.
But you’d be mistaken to think of the Baleh-boran as being stiff or legalistic. Its tone and spirit are nearly always bright and happy. Acceptance is considered likely at this point, particularly if the Khastegari has gone well. So a happy outcome – a glowing happiness – is anticipated. After all, the khastegar and his family have already visited, they have been pleased with what they have seen and they have now explicitly stated their interest in the potential bride.
Both parties at this point would very much like the Baleh-boran to go well and see the couple pass into a formal engagement. So as to ensure that engagement does in fact come about, at the Baleh-boran, a confident groom and his family enter into the supportive and welcoming home of the potential bride, and all strive to be as polite and likable as possible and to show their very best behavior.
But however charming and polite the khastegar may be, before he can formally ask for the girl’s hand in marriage, the bride’s family must discuss what the khastegar can contribute to his potential bride – not just emotionally but financially.
The Mariyeh (Dowry)
In Persian culture, once the bride leaves her family and marries, she joins the groom’s family. As such, the groom and his family are expected to provide and care for her. The Baleh-boran is an opportunity for the bride’s family to understand the capacity of the groom and his family to care for their beloved daughter and to gauge the depth and sincerity of his intention to care for her. Before they can bless a marriage between the khastegar and their daughter, the bride’s family must know the feelings and be assured of the honor and integrity of the khastegar and his family; they must be certain that their daughter will be cherished and live a life free from want. Before any engagement can take place, this must be definitely established. The Baleh-boran is where this is done.
One of the first considerations to come up is the Mariyeh. It’s expected that a Persian groom will provide a Mariyeh for his bride – which is to say, a dowry, sometimes referred to as “the gift for love.” This is the bride’s security should the marriage not work out; so it is, as it were, non-refundable. At this event, both families will discuss the amount or nature of the Mahriyeh, and at this time the costs involved with the wedding festivities, guest lists and events are discussed too. It is the groom who pays for the expenses of the wedding. So the bride’s family will want to clearly know what financial contributions he is prepared to make in that regard as well.
The bride’s family will not only ask the groom many questions about his financial status and intentions – in detail, they may even negotiate with the groom and the groom’s family in regard to the items for which the groom will be responsible, should the couple engage and marry.
It should be pointed out that providing such a security as the Mariyeh does not mean that the groom endows the bride and her family with significant funds on the spot. The Mahriyeh ensures that the bride will have means to live comfortably if and when the marriage ends, but it does not commit the groom to provide it all at once immediately.
Persian weddings can indeed be lavish affairs, rich in gifts and festivities, but just as wonderful traditional marriages need not be impossibly costly, assuring a bride’s financial future does not require immediate massive expenditures. If the groom owns a fine house in his own name, for example, he may during the Baleh-boran agree to put it in his wife’s name.
A high up-front cost expenditure is not necessarily required from the groom; assuring the financial safety and security of the bride is.
From all the above, it may seem that the Baleh-boran is more of a business proposal than a marriage proposal. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Baleh-boran is far from an exclusively monetary discussion. The bride’s family simply wants to be completely assured that the groom is capable of supporting the bride, and that he is determined to support her and cherish her. They want to be assured that he will not only be kind and gentle, but generous and supportive of their daughter before they give him permission to ask for her hand.
And although the Baleh-boran and the Khastegari are to some degree meetings centered on finance, detail and negotiations, neither event is intended to be a tense or overly demanding encounter for either party. On the contrary! Both are a very special moment in the life of the Iranian bride and groom: they and their two families are joining together and uniting with one another as they elaborate the details of formalizing and celebrating the joyous union of the bride and groom in marriage.
The financial details are merely the dressing; the love of the couple and their complete commitment to one another is the cake.
Persian culture is nothing if not respectful, hospitable and polite. Yet joy and celebration are encouraged at every turn, particularly when the event that sparks it is as intrinsically joyous as a marriage. So at the Baleh-boran, as at the Khastegari, guests to the bride’s home are treated to the best of everything that the hosts have to offer. The bride’s family wants to ensure that the khastegar and his family are as comfortable as it is possible to be during the negotiating events.
The Baleh-boran is anything but a burden; as a rule it’s extremely enjoyable. Why? Because if the couples and families already know each other informally, both generally already have an informal sense of each others’ rough financial situation too; negotiations are already somewhat informed and more than somewhat friendly.
On the other hand, if the marriage is arranged, the matchmaker arranging it has assessed both parties’ financial picture beforehand. In both cases, it is far more a matter of clarifying details and understandings than of starting and finishing high-level legalistic negotiations from scratch.
The negotiations confirm explicitly what both parties more or less already know and more or less already expect; at which point – on with the party!
But it’s party time with a practical purpose. Clear and open discussions are necessary if both families are to explicitly understand the mutual expectations of both families as to marriage and the marriage ceremony.
A Private Time For The Couple
So when is the Persian wedding courtship proposal actually proposed? Once the financial negotiations are done, and it is clearly established what expenses the khastegar‘s family will be responsible for and what expenses the bride’s family will be responsible for, then comes the time for the girl and the khastegar to meet privately.
In private the two will discuss the details just gone over in the general family conversations, but this will be their opportunity to also discuss in private, neither family nor finance, but rather their feelings for each other and their expectations regarding their coming marriage.
Before the bride and groom meet privately, the girl’s family will give their blessing to the khastegar to ask for her hand in marriage. Then both families will retire to another room and wait as the khastegar and the girl discuss by themselves the details of the meetings up to that point and their inner thoughts and feelings.
Even at this point, there is still no obligation to become engaged, and if the khastegar and the girl do not feel compatible, it is still perfectly acceptable for either party to politely decline. But that is rare. Especially nowadays, when the bride and groom have often already met and courted each other.
The Baleh-boran is not a mere formality; rather it is the placing of a seal on the couple’s love for one another and on their intention to become one. Once the Baleh-boran occurs and the khastegar and the girl have discussed everything and are both satisfied, then the preliminaries are at an end. The process of becoming man and wife begins.
But first the private talk between the khastegar and his intended bride must take place. And when it does, and all appears well, what then? Then and there the suitor asks for her hand in marriage.
Announcing The Acceptance
If the bride is happy with the khastegar and does indeed agree to marry him, they are not at that point formally engaged; but they are so much closer to it that celebration follows almost immediately.
If the bride has a younger female family member, the girl will often be summoned to deliver the news. The girl will joyously emerge and tell the entire family that the bride-to-be has said “baleh!” – yes! – at which point immense cheering and celebration erupts. The families happily congratulate the couple and each other as the khastegar and his potential bride emerge from their private moment together. Everyone gives many a heartfelt “Mobarak!” (congratulations) to each other as well as the happy couple, and the atmosphere is lively, ecstatic and celebratory.
The families will now begin to prepare for either a Shirini-Khoran – “eating of the sweets” – party; or for the official Namzadi – the engagement party.
Christen Flack Behzadi, MD, is the author of the internationally selling book The Persian Wedding Book. She live in Houston, Texas, with her beloved husband, Dr. Pedram Behzadi, M.D.