1. Speak on the Mordvin wedding ceremonies

The modern Mordvins live in the Russian Federation and consider themselves to be two separate groups – the Erzyas and the Mokshas. They are one of the largest ethnic minorities in Russia, with a population of over 1,15 million.

Historically, women were more confined to their homes and rarely travelled far from their village, so they were less likely to speak Russian or be exposed to the Russian culture. As a result, Mordvin women played a large role in the preservation of the Mordvin languages, oral traditions and customs.

Today the Mordvins are a part of the Finno-Ugric people scattered throughout half of Europe, but they value their traditions very much.

In a traditional Mordvin society, when a girl got married she would leave her home and move in with her husband’s family. As a result, a Mordvin family had an interest in delaying a daughter’s wedding as long as possible, so as not to lose her contribution to labour, and there was a corresponding interest in a son marrying as soon as possible so as to bring an extra worker (his wife) into the family. So, marriages sometimes involved eleven- or twelve-year-old Mordvin boys marrying twenty-five-year-old (or older) Mordvin women. This custom gradually disappeared, and today Mordvin marriage patterns are similar to those in Russia as a whole.

A Mordvin wedding was always one of the most significant events in the life of these people. Wedding ceremonies were characterized by great complexity and diversity with their ceremonial, theatrical rites, elements of folk dramatic plays and with plenty of entertaining game scenes and episodes, colourful national costumes and deep heartfelt lamentations. In the modern world, our traditions are practically forgotten, and now when the interest in national values is increasing we are returning to our ethnic roots to show how important and interesting they are. So, let us have a peek at some remarkable Erzya wedding rites.



Mordvin weddings of the past were divided into several stages, each of which had many features and nuances. Traditionally, they consisted of three main stages: the pre-wedding, wedding and post-wedding.

The pre-wedding period was the longest and most intense in all respects. The bride had to prepare the outfit, a lot of gifts and to learn lamentations. In most cases, the preparations lasted several years before the wedding and in spite of this fact there were still a lot of worries.

The pre-wedding period was also subdivided into ritual scenes:

  • «odirvan kochkamo» choosing the bride;
  • «val langs putoma» engagement;
  • «ladyamo» matchmaking;
  • «toi» booze-up;
  • «kaznen anokstamo» preparation of the gifts;
  • «teiterkschin banya» bath of girlhood;
  • «kashado yarsamo» bride’s porridge;
  • «ultsyan iltema» parting with the street;
  • «pryakan panema chi» baking pies.

Let us look at some remarkable ones.



At the end of XIX century matchmaking was the first main step on the way to the wedding. There were different variations of that ritual, but usually before the matchmaking the groom’s father made sacrifices to different patron gods of the house, yard and deceased ancestors. Then the groom’s parents sent matchmakers to the bride’s house to agree about the wedding. They spoke in a joking manner, negotiated the cost of the solemnity, the amount of the dowry (in the past as a dowry, parents usually gave clothes, kitchen utensils, towels, blankets and cattle) and also fixed the day for the wedding. So, matchmaking was a preliminary agreement between the bride and groom’s parents.

«Samokrutka» also took place in the past. A man arranged things with a woman without his parents’ permission. They had a church wedding and after that their marriage was considered legal.

«Umikaniye» or abduction was the oldest form of marriage and wedding. There were various kinds of abduction: hostile (forcible), peaceful (with the girl’s or woman’s consent, but without the parents’ knowledge) and formal (the imitation of the abduction).



The following pre-wedding ritual in the cycle of different ceremonies was a «toi», which existed in the traditional preparation for the wedding and had a great number of specific features. Before marriage, after matchmaking, there were six weeks left to the wedding day and three weeks left to the ceremony, when the groom’s relatives went «to drink away» the bride. From that day, the bride and groom did not meet until the wedding ceremony. When the groom’s parents and relatives came to the bride’s house they brought a bucket of wine, a loaf, salt and money. Incidentally, the bride’s parents and relatives were sitting as guests and the matchmakers acted hosts. The bride was sitting at that moment in the closet. She was dressed up; her head and face were covered with a shawl. After the great meal the groom’s parents went to the closet to see and evaluate their son’s future wife. So the next important and traditional custom began.

There were two married women in front of the closet’s doors, usually the bride’s brother’s wife and an older married sister. So, there was a trial for the grooms’ parents who came there to have a look at the bride. These women asked for an admission fee. The groom’s father had to give them two glasses of wine with copper coins at their bottom. They sipped, took the coins, thanked the parents and passed them further. Then they entered and met two bridesmaids who guarded the bride. The matchmakers fulfilled the same ritual with wine and copper coins. Finally, when they came up to the bride they gave her a glass of wine with a silver coin.

After that the groom’s mother put a shawl on her head to make her sensible, earrings in her ears to make her obedient, put a ring on her finger to make her a needlewoman and a bracelet on her wrist to make her hard-working. From that moment, the couple was finally betrothed and the bride stopped going to the gatherings and started to prepare gifts together with her friends for the groom’s relatives.






After the booze-up, the bride went to the yard at night to wail. That ritual symbolized the parting with her girlhood. Usually girls were taught to do this at the age of 8–10. If a bride was afraid of going out alone, she took her bridesmaids. That ritual lasted for 4–5 days. It looked like an extremely sorrowful ceremony, and in her lamentations the bride blamed her parents for selling her to an «enslaver» (as the groom was called). She did not want to leave the house and showed all her grief.

The bride and groom’s parents and relatives also prayed for the newly-weds’ welfare in order to protect their future family life from the evil spirit; they closed all the windows and doors in the houses. As a rule there were often two different tunes at the wedding. The groom’s relatives sang in a loud voice, cheerfully and in a stately manner. The bride and bridesmaids sang sadly and mournfully.


Kashado yarsamo/Bride’s porridge

On the Saturday, before the wedding day, there was the bride’s porridge ritual. Each invited woman had to bring a pot, a bowl or any kind of utensil with porridge (usually millet). They sat down at the table and put their porridge on it. There was a bowl with butter in the middle of the table. The bride treated the guests with the porridge from her pot and she had to sit at the top of the table. On  one side of the bride there was her little sister or a god-daughter on the pillow, on the other – a girl or a woman who was  to get married. After the meal they took the tablecloth and put it on the head of the oldest friend for her to get married sooner. The women left the utensils they brought with their porridge to show their future husbands how many relatives the bride had. Then the bride was taken to the street to throw the ring. The woman who caught the ring was supposed to be the next to get married.


Teiterkschin banya/Bath of girlhood

Before the wedding the bride had to go to a bath heated by her friends or sisters-in-law. That ritual was connected with the Mordvins’ belief in the purifying power of water. After the bath, the bride symbolically parted with her girlhood and presented her friends with red ribbons.


The wedding day

The central stage of the wedding cycle was a wedding in the bride’s and groom’s house.  On the wedding day, the groom’s relatives baked wedding pies early in the morning. There were about five to nine of them. Each pie had its name and purpose. The biggest pie «Luvon kshi» was served to the bride’s father. At first, the groom, his parents and friends went to the bride’s house in a «wedding procession». It was a wedding train decorated with a lot of bells and bright ribbons. This tradition notified all people about the wedding. Before the departure, the oldest family members prayed for a successful journey. They usually went to the bride at the most favorable time of the day – in the afternoon.

The main role in the wedding train acted «Kudava» as a female matchmaker. It was usually the groom’s uncle’s or brother’s wife. A girl, a pregnant woman or a widow can’t play that role. The second person of honor and importance was «Uredev» a man, whose obligations were to protect the groom and the entire procession from the evil eye and make arrangements at the table. The bride’s protectors were «Urvalyat» her relatives or cousins.

Mordvin weddings usually took place on Sunday as it was also called a «light day». The unmarried ladies came to the bride’s house 3 days before the wedding ceremony. There were a lot of variations at that stage:

  • «kudan vastoma» meeting the wedding procession;
  • «odirvan tuema kekshema kudos» the bride leaving for the neighbour’s or relative’s house;
  • «kaznen yavshema» giving out presents;
  • «teiterkschi marto yavoma» parting with the bride’s girlhood;
  • «par vachkamo» packing of the trunk;
  • «odirvan orshaniye» the bride’s attire;
  • «baslavamo» the blessing;
  • «venets alov Molema» the arrival of the wedding procession to the groom’s house after the church ceremony.

Let us become acquainted with some of these customs.


Kudan vastoma/Meeting of the wedding procession

When the wedding procession drove up to the bride’s house, her relatives closed the gates and asked for a ransom. The Kudava (a matchmaker, usually the groom’s godmother) sang at the gates and asked to be let in. Even when they entered the house they had to pay to enter the house. After that the groom’s relatives put food onto the table, prayed and then ate. At the end of the feast the bride’s relatives gave presents to guests. The bride was waiting in the other room, then she was brought out and the parting with her relatives began. All the relatives were crying and praying at that moment. Then the bride’s parents blessed their daughter and gave her an icon. After blessings Urvalyat (the bride’s relatives or cousins) took the bride into the yard. She tried to resist and in her lamentations expressed the unwillingness to leave her house.

Everyone was in high spirits, but not always the bride because the first meeting and getting acquainted with the groom was at the bedside, which was usually prepared in winter and in summer, in a stable or barn because of the lack of separate rooms. The groom arrived in advance there and then the bride was brought.

From the bride’s house the wedding train headed for the church and after that to the groom’s house. At the groom’s house the newlyweds were met with bread and salt. Before the couple entered the house they were showered with hops and corn. In past times Mordvin weddings would last for three days, with the newlyweds never appearing in the place where their relatives were celebrating.






Par vachkamo/Packing of the trunk

Erzia Costumes

Taken from: http://mak-makosh.blogspot.ru/2009/11/blog-post_22.html


Erzia bride’s trunk

Taken from: https://yandex.ru/images/search?p=3&text=фото

The ceremony of the packing of the trunk was very important. At first, it was necessary to cleanse the trunk from evil spirits (they encircled the trunk with a lit candle, an icon and put some salt into it) then they put some money, bread and sometimes utensils in order for the trunk not to be empty and the newlyweds were rich. Only after that, did they put clothes and enumerate the purpose of each item: for the holidays, for the harvest etc. That trunk also acquainted the groom with the bride’s material well-being.


Odirvan orshaniye/The bride’s attire


Taken from:http://mak-makosh.blogspot.ru/2009/11/blog-post_22.html

The national wedding dress symbolized the age and the transition from one age category to another. In the decorative pattern of the dress the goddesses of water, fertility and the forest were reflected. The wedding dress was also decorated with amulet and tribal symbols. The embroidery had a very important aesthetic value as well. Young girls competed in this art. As a rule the bride’s attire consisted of several white shirts and skirts (their quantity varied from 3 to 11, usually one on top of the other). In accordance with traditions, the bride wore all her dresses she had made before the ceremony. A bride with many dresses was considered to be a hard working woman, e.g. shoes, leather creased jackboots; their price used to equal the price of a cow, so as you can see they cost the earth. The national wedding dresses had such special attributes as «pulaj» waist decoration, «kokoshnik» head-dress, «syul’gamo» breast brooch etc.

The post-wedding ceremony was not very rich in rites and traditions. It generally included the following:

  • «tsigan» the Gipsy day;
  • «syukoron oznoma» the praying of the flat cakes;
  • «kshi de yarsamo» the eating of the bread;
  • «kudova yakamo» visiting relatives and clubbing together.