Wedding music has been frowned upon for years and frequently replaced with Islamic readings by mullahs in the Tajik village of Chorkhuh, a conservative pocket of the predominantly Muslim country.
That tradition is about to come to an end, if the powers that be get their way.
Alarmed by the prevalence of Islamic practices, village authorities have set up a band to perform at weddings and are vowing to enforce a new rule: No music, no marriage.
Without a receipt from a band, the civil registry office will not register any marriage, authorities say.
“Our society has come close to destruction under the influence of mullahs,” deputy village head Isomiddin Kholiqov told RFE/RL’s Tajik Service.
President Emomali Rahmon’s government is concerned about the growing influence of Islam and has shown increasing intolerance for anything it perceives as a potential sign of religious extremism.
Kholiqov said that wedding parties in Chorkuh had become almost identical to funerals in recent years.
“We invested $2,500 to purchase music instruments, microphones, and other necessary equipment this summer,” he said. “Families have to give a month’s notice to hire the band and pay the fees in advance.”
Families will not be forced to use the band the authorities have put together. Insisting the sole intent is to ensure happy, lively, secular-style wedding parties, authorities say they will be given an option of hiring other bands.
The band established this summer — also named Chorkuh — consists of three performers who were hired from other villages “as there are no professional musicians in Chorkuh,” Kholiqov said.
This year we witnessed a change in society. Weddings are increasingly becoming much happier affairs.” — Isomiddin Kholiqov, deputy village head
Heavily subsidized by the local government, Chorkuh charges 200 somonis (about $30) for a wedding party that lasts for two to three hours, according to a law regulating citizens’ public functions. The group performs free of charge for weddings in impoverished families, or if the groom has served in the army.
Village wedding banquets across Tajikistan are usually conducted in the front yard of houses or in the increasingly popular private wedding “palaces.”
Those venues, which provide a large hall with tables and chairs for the banquet, have become a flourishing business in recent years — especially during Tajikistan’s traditional wedding season, in autumn and winter, when hundreds of thousands of migrant laborers return home from Russia.
Some palaces provide food and music, too.
The bride and groom usually sit at the most prominent table, where the wedding cake is cut and served to the guests.
In Chorkuh, however, weddings have become a much more quiet affair in recent years, with the bride — covered with a large head scarf — silently escorted by female relatives to her new in-laws’ house, while the groom sits among male guests.
During the wedding, the house is usually divided into male-only and female-only quarters.
There are many people in Chorkuh who are not happy with such tradition, says Olimboy Sohibov, a Tajik scholar who studies local customs in Tajik regions.
Sohibov says some parents wanted to throw wedding parties with music and dance but hesitated because of the influence of mullahs who shun music.
Chorkuh officials say the new band would be a welcome relief for families willing to break with the tradition.
“In fact, this year we witnessed a change in society,” Kholiqov said. “Weddings are increasingly becoming much happier affairs.”
Those who want to stick to the tradition have already begun to look for ways to avoid the new regulation.
“Some people who don’t want a modern wedding say that they would pay the band, get the receipt to present it to the registry office, and then would tell the band, ‘You don’t have to come to the wedding,'” said a Chorkuh resident who didn’t want his name to be published.
Chorkuh, home to nearly 40,000 people, came under scrutiny starting in the early 2000s when dozens of its inhabitants were arrested for alleged connections to the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
The newly banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistanhas had many members and supporters in Chorkuh, a village known for its strong Islamic traditions, even during Soviet times.