Weddings are significant social events. Because many marriages still are arranged, it is common for a bride and groom to first meet at their wedding. Young people may arrange their own matches, but parental approval is still crucial. Although dating before marriage is still considered unacceptable, in the main cities such as the capital of Ashgabat, it is becoming more popular.
It is customary for a boy’s parents to visit the home of a potential bride to make certain that she is of good character and capable of bearing children. They must also convince the girl’s parents that their son will provide for their daughter. A bride-price (qalin) is negotiated; these days, it is often given to the couple to help them establish their own household.
Weddings have both a civil and a religious ceremony. Following these, a large celebration (toi) is held with dancing and food. The size of the wedding is dictated by what the groom’s family can afford; for many, it will be a substantial portion of their life savings.
The clothes of Turkmen brides are more than just beautiful attire. They act as charms to ward off evil spirits. The bride often covers her traditional red wedding dress with a cape covered in amulets and charms. A pocket sewn into the cape contains coal and salt to guard against bad luck and evil spirits.
The bashsalma is a ceremonial changing of the headdress, marking a woman’s transition to a married woman. The ceremony involves a symbolic “fight” for the bride’s maiden headdress (takhya), which is replaced with a white scarf and given to the groom’s youngest sister. The ritual is to ensure the happy marriage of the sister, reinforcing her role of a woman as a wife and mother.
Weddings are the main event on the Turkmen social calendar and customarily take place on Saturday, the Muslim sabbath. It was no different on this bright Saturday, rife with the air of the desert spring's fecundity, i Sometimes it was a procession of desert-beaten little cars racing behind each other bumper to bumper at breakneck speed, all honking their horns full blast. In other places, women were setting long tables for wedding guests in the open-air courtyards of the high-rise apartment buildings. In their festive tribal dresses and ornately jeweled head pieces, heavily laden with silver necklaces for the occasion, the women offered a bright splash of finery to the stark monotony of the housing complexes. Five hundred to one thousand guests at a Turkmen wedding is normal, but, as in so many instances, the traditional tribal weddings of Central Asia have had to be modified to fit into the pattern of Soviet life.
Yet as long as the Turkmen tribes survive, their traditions are always ripe for renewal, so now and then I would see a young groom on horseback, trotting proudly down the center of the street in the Turkmen warrior's costume the men still wear for ceremonial occasions: a tall, Huffy, white lamb's wool hat, resplendent red-and-yellow silk robe, gray pantaloons, and high black boots. They say that in Uzbekistan, the neighboring republic (or one Istan to the east, if you like, an Istan being defined as the distance from one republic with the name ending in -istan to the next), weddings are still celebrated in rural areas with the traditional bride chase in which the prospective bride gallops off and the groom must capture her on horseback. Now that Turkmen are permitted to keep private horses once again, the horse is returning as a member of the wedding, though at present still in vestigial form. These wedding-day rides must be hell on the horses' hooves, because they jog their mounts over the hard pavement of Ashkhabad's streets; desert horsemen have never shod their horses, which have never been bred for hard hooves, either.
... "A Turkmen woman is given one chance of escape from a bad husband," said the mother, whose name was Kariva Guzil. "This occurs forty days after a woman marries, when she returns to her parents' home for the first time to visit. At this time, if she doesn't love her husband, she may run away with someone else, especially if the husband has not yet paid the bride price. Nowadays, the engaged couple mostly agree between themselves on the price, and the family of the husband helps him out. Parents receive money from the marriage of their daughters, but they generally use it to buy wives for their sons, so it is the same."
The mother served us what I had come to recognize as the standard Turkmen dinner: meat soup and lamb plov plus cooked greens, all delicious. "In the old days before the Soviet revolution," she went on, "the khans who ruled the Turkmen tribes did not allocate water for women. They had to collect rainwater or find hidden springs. They did not count for much with the nomadic desert Turkmen. At weddings the bride stayed in the yurt with a few friends while the fathers and male-friends of the bride and groom celebrated. The old men and women watched horse racing and wrestling and listened to poetry readings and music, but the bride took no part until she was taken home by her new husband after the wedding. She might never have met her husband before the wedding. When relatives visited, she was always required to wear a veil. Family dominates everything else here, and the father is still the patriarch of the family. There is absolute respect for elders. Among men, the attitude toward women is that they should not be allowed any freedom; in return, the men care for them and give them protection and security. Mostly, though, men want their wives to have children and to cook lot them. Food is extremely important to the Turkmen man. It is the main way of evaluating a woman before marriage. A Turkmen will eat three kilograms of meat a week by himself. It must be cooked fresh every day. A Turkmen won't eat leftovers. Meat is the basis of life here.