The most solemn, expressive and rich rite is Karaim wedding. It consist of several parts (as in many other nations as well):

  • siozgia kojmach (couple’s agreement);
  • kyz bijanči (hen’s party);
  • kieliašmiak (engagement);
  • toj alhyšy (marriage);
  • toj ičkisi (wedding party);
  • ullu toj šabbaty (great wedding Saturday a week after the wedding).

At the engagement ceremony the youth is electing the leader of all the wedding and handing him over a thin withy red-banded stick ‘chybukh’, which is for symbol of leader’s power.

The main wedding ceremony that remains up to these days, is the engagement. There are lots of rite symbols in it; in the presence of community elders’ engagements document – toj jazyšy is signed and it becomes a legal one. The mood of this ceremony is very solemn and sensitive.

The most interesting wedding custom is – kioliundiurmiak (symbolic maiden’s hairstyle changing into a womanlike one, head covering). At that time a well-voiced boy sings a song “Muzhul kielin” (“Sad bride”). That is the bride’s wedding lamentation. As the bride according to the traditions can do nothing in the wedding, it is lamented for her and during the song the bridesmaids moisten the bride’s hair with a ring wetted in fragrances.

The lamentation text is usually adapted for each bride separately. In the text it is retold a symbolic dialogue between the bride and her relatives. The dialogue is very expressive having solemn metaphors with religious allusions. “Muzhul kielin” is sung as usual with accompaniment of violin and trumpet. After the rite is over, the bride and the groom must be dressed.

For the engagement the parties from the bride and groom’s side each make a cake (called kielinlik and kijovliuk) eaten at the ceremony. Karaim youth usually dressed with national costumes has to act much at the engagement. It is their obligation to assist the bride and the groom, to take part at all the ritual actions, to make jokes, and also to sign as witness the engagement document.

From marriage ceremony – the priest reads aloud the engagement agreement “toj jazyshy”, 1996

From marriage ceremony – the priest is putting on the wedding-rings, Vilnius kenesa, 1996

Another important wedding moment is the religious marriage ceremony in Karaim temple – kenesa. The kenesa wedding ceremony also has certain rules. After the newly-weds come to kenesa, solemn hymn “Kiorkiu kijovliarnin” (“The newly-weds’ beauty”) is sung. During the marriage rite the engagement agreement is being read aloud, after joining the bride and the groom the priest blesses them and the community. In the wedding party there remained very little rite actions – the most important of them is the song of the wedding leader ataman, called “Onarhejlar” (“Let they prosper”).

The Karaims’ wedding ceremonies have been observed up to the present. As the wedding is rather rare, it becomes a huge festival for the whole community. That is a nice opportunity both to congratulate the newly-weds and to meet one another, communicate and maybe to make plans for the next weddings.