The Barber’s Role in a Bengali Wedding
Strange as it may seem, a barber who also functions as a chiropodist has a significant role to play in a wedding in Bangladesh! This is a throwback to the old days when every family had its resident barber cum chiropodist. It was a job that was passed on from father to son and in the large joint families of yore the barber was a busy man indeed!
His duties involved shaving the gentlemen of the household and trimming their hair when necessary. He cut their nails and gave a rudimentary manicure and pedicure. He also served as a chiropodist to the ladies, attending to their nails and feet. Corns, calluses and broken nails received his expert treatment. It was a vital job in a society where women rarely left the home. It was of course natural that he was also the source of a lot gossip within the household and harbinger of news from outside.
Bengali weddings traditionally take place in the bride’s home. In the old days the bridegroom’s party had to travel great distances to the bride’s village. Naturally the barber was a necessary member of the entourage. His role did not end with just grooming the bridegroom and his party. The bridegroom is supposed to wear the clothes gifted to him by the bride’s family for the ceremony. It is our friendly resident barber who had the honor of helping the groom to wear his new ‘dhoti’. The old clothes were gifted to him, a custom that is followed even today.
He had his lines in the wedding drama too. Several pre-wedding ceremonies require him to announce the rituals about to take place. This happens at both the bride’s home and groom’s home. Traditional families still have the local barber around who recites rather colorful doggerel verse, warning people who wish the newly weds ill, of rather dire consequences.
Today he symbolically nips at one of the bride’s well manicured nails. Needless to say the barber, on many occasions, is more aware of quaint little customs associated with weddings than are many family members. After all he does attend many more ceremonies than the average person!