Traditional and modern: two Kyrgyz weddings

In Kyrgyz culture marriage is one of the most important decisions and acts of person’s life. Family definitely stands among highest priorities of Kyrgyz people and marriages are meant to last for a lifetime. Therefore the wedding is very important not only for the bride and groom, but for their extended family and friends.

Kyrgyz weddings incorporate rituals, some of which often controversial. For example it is quite common to marry in a white “western style” gown, but along the “western” style wedding it’s mandatory to conduct the ritual of nikkah, the muslim traditional ritual of marriage. In other words, just like Kyrgyz culture, Kyrgyz weddings represent mix of traditions and cultures, which are cherished and influential in Kyrgyzstan.


Bakytbek Tokubek uulu and Meerim Avtandil kyzy

To get a clearer picture of what a Kyrgyz wedding looks like, I have decided to describe two real weddings, one done in modern “western” style and another in “traditional” Kyrgyz style.


The Kyrgyz style wedding

Bakyt (the groom) has experienced many cultures, living and studying outside of Kyrgyzstan for his master’s degree. Being away from his home country, he grew to appreciate Kyrgyz nomadic culture, thus he decided to marry according to Kyrgyz traditions. His bride Meerim and their families supported Bakyt’s decision. Throughout the ceremony the groom wore a white suit with elements of traditional costume and kalpak, a traditional hat made out of wool.

The important part of Kyrgyz wedding is taking the bride from her parents’ house to the groom’s house. As the bride moves into her future husband’s house she is considered to become a member of his family. In earlier times, most girls married men from other tribes and lived far away. They couldn’t see their own family for long periods. Therefore leaving her parents’ house is a very exciting, significant and touching and sad moment for the bride and her family.

For the ceremony the traditional yurt has been set up on the courtyard, in which bride’s aunts prepared her for the wedding. They unbraided her forty braids (kïrk chach), which are traditionally worn by unmarried Kyrgyz girls, and braided her hair into two braids.

Braiding the bride’s hair

Afterwards, they helped the bride to put on her wedding dress and decorations. Meerim put on her traditional wedding dress and a shökülö, a cone shaped headdress with a veil on top. Throughout the process they sang traditional wedding songs to the bride before she left for her husband’s.

Bride and groom wearing traditional Kyrgyz wedding outfits

Bride and groom also played on selkinchek, traditional swings, while singers sang traditional wedding songs to them. The bride’s colorful dowry, which consisted of hand-made traditional felts, rugs, blankets, cushions, pillows and clothes, followed her to her future husband’s house.


Selkinchek (traditional Kyrgyz swings)

Other traditions involved incorporated into the wedding were : kalïng, paying of the bride price by the groom’s parents; slaughtering of a horse for the feast; kiyit kiygizüü, a gift exchange (mostly clothes from head to toe) between the in-laws; öpkö chaptï, a ritual with a newly slaughtered goat’s raw lung which is used to hit the backs of the bride and the groom who sit back to back; koshok aytuu, singing of the wedding song; sep berüü, giving the bride’s dowry and loading it onto a camel; kïz uzatuu, viewing of the girl/bride; offering of koumiss to the köch, nomadic movement (in our case it was a wedding “köch” or caravan) from pasture to pasture.

The second part of the celebration took place in the groom’s house. The ceremonies practiced are kelin kirgizüü, welcoming the bride to her new home; sep jayuu, displaying her dowry for people to see, nike kïyuu; a Muslim ceremony carried out by a mullah to legalize the marriage between the couple, which is usually followed by toi, a celebration involving music, dancing, singing and saying many blessings from the guests to the newlywed couple.

To watch the video from Bakyt and Meerim’s wedding follow this link.

As for another example that I found useful and descriptive was Elnura “My fair tale wedding” post where she has shared her personal experience of conducting Kyrgyz traditional wedding.

The modern western style wedding

The wedding in western style includes many elements which are common to all weddings of the world. The groom usually wears white or black “western style” suit, while the bride wears the western styled white wedding gown. An important part of the preparations is decorating the cars that are used by newlywed couple and their friends and family. It’s common to order limousines for the bride and groom.

Some time before the wedding most couples conduct nikkah kyiuu, which is muslim legalization of the marriage. Only after that the marriage registration takes place.

Before the civil registration the bride and groom and the younger generation; their sisters and brothers, friends and younger members of family drive around the city in a procession of well decorated cars. Their route consists of certain famous sites, where couple and their guests stop to take pictures, drink champagne and say toasts.


Bride and groom at Victory Square

One of such sites in Bishkek (the capital of Kyrgyzstan) is at Victory Square, where eternal fire is lit. Couples lay flowers next to the monument and release doves into the air.


The bride and groom lay flowers next to the eternal fire…

…and release doves into the air

Next the newlywed couple and their guests arrive into the Wedding House, where the registration of marriage is conducted. After the registration all guests go to the restaurant, where celebration takes place. The celebration contains includes a lot of food, and drinks, people saying wishes, relatives exchanging gifts, singing and dancing.


Finally, the wedding is celebrated with food, singing and dancing

Read more:
Weddings around the world
Kyrgyz cinema: two films about modern day Kyrgyzstan
My city: Nargiza’s photo tour of Bishkek

About the author

Nargiza Ryskulova
Nargiza is a journalism student at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She has also studied in the USA as part of the Future Leaders Exchange programme. She speaks Kyrgyz, Russian and English.
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5 Comments

  • Thanks for this post Nargiza, it’s really interesting to see the different traditions.

    Thanks also to Bakytbek and Meerim for sharing your wedding with us!

    I have one question about the names, does ‘Avtandil kyzy’ mean daughter of Avtandil? So in that case it is like Ryskulova? Why are there two different forms used?

  • ‘Avtandil kyzy’ is a Kyrgyz form. Ryskulova is a Russian form. Since early 90s people can chose either way. The ending like “ov” and “ova” is like “van” in Holand or “de” in Spanish speaking countries.
    Hope this clarifies.
    Cheers.

  • It was very interesting to read about the Kyrgyz weddings.
    I have one question, though. What is the significance of the ‘öpkö chaptï’ ritual?

  • As far as i know we don’t have that ritual, but it’s a saying about people who “show off” too much :) Why

  • kadri/Karl Schulte

    Sevgili kizim Nargiza. Cok tesekur. Bende eski Kyrgizin hayat daha guzel. Kyrgyzlar insanlarin sharkilar ve dil cok iyi ve bombasa! InsAllah londrada unutmayiniz. Now in English as it is likely my far western Turkish, although related, may not be understood. Thanks my dear young lady Nazgiza. For me, the Kirgiz life and culture is better and more beautiful. I think your people and songs and lang are very nice a terrific. Hope you won’t forget in London. Although unusual for an American I enjoy your music and dance and am astounded by the beauty of your land. Much the same ca.n be said of Uzbeks, Kazakhs and Azeri’s (whose language I can partly understand). As for the others many words are understandable, with different accents and spelling conventions (qiz= kiz, garindash = kardash or kardesh in Istanbul for example). I hope that your traditions will not be lost among the McDonalds and KFC’s and the best of the old with the best of the new will co-exist, and the beautiful kara jarga will always be danced! Best regards/ Allaha ismarledik. Tun aydin. Karl/ Kadri. I n Missouri.