Marriages have traditionally been arranged by parents and extended family members .Some courting took place and the wishes of the potential bride and groom were often taken into consideration. A bride price was paid by the groom’s family and the marriage was sanctified in a betrothal ceremony, called a “nikka”, presided over by a mullah.

Couples traditionally married young and girls were expected to remain virgins until they were married. Wealthy men sometimes had several wives. Generally Kyrgyz only married other Kyrgyz or Kazakhs. Kyrgyz that married Russians, non-Kyrgyz or non-Muslims were sometimes looked down upon so much they were forced to leave their home towns and villages. Marriages to the much hated Uzbeks, Tajiks and Uighurs were particularly frowned upon. Offspring from such unions were given low status positions in the clan.

In the Soviet era, traditional marriage and wedding customs persisted. Couples often participated in both traditional and civil marriage ceremonies. Bride prices were made illegal by the Soviets. The Kyrgyz got around this by giving gifts instead.

Types of Marriages in Kyrgyzstan

Arranged marriages were once common, but are no longer. While couples may choose each other, they often know each other for no more than a few months before they are married. People are expected to marry in their early twenties, after they have finished secondary school, and to have children quickly. Polygamy is not practiced, but it is common for people to have lovers when they are married. It is more acceptable for men to do so, and they may refer to their mistresses as their second wives. More than one in five couples get divorced. [Source:]

In the past child marriages were common. Sometimes even unborn babies were matched. In the Soviet era, most brides and grooms in Kyrgyzstan were under 20. There may have been several reasons for this. It is suggested, for example, that one was that marriage brought a certain status. Apparently there now is a current trend in Kyrgyzstan for young people to put off being married until later in life.

There are also regional differences within Kyrgyzstan concerning the age at which people get married. It is common for girls to marry younger than men. The 1999 census data shows that only 34 percent of women in the 20-24 age range had never been married, while for men the figure was 72 percent. However, there are some distinct geographical patterns when it ocmes to marriage age. In some areas such as the Ferghana valley in the South and in the lowlands) both the bride and groom marry young. In other areas, such as Bishkek and the Chui valley both sexes delay marriage. In northern, remote, mountain areas there is a tendency for older men (say at 30) to marry younger girls (say 20). [Source:]

An alternate marriage tradition is that of wife-stealing. A man may kidnap any unmarried woman and make her his wife. Usually the girl spends one night alone with her future husband. The next day she is taken to meet her mother-in-law, who ties a scarf around the girl's head to indicate that she is now married. She may run away, and it is legal to sue the man who steals her, but it is shameful to do so and unlikely that another man would marry her. Often a lesser bride price is still paid after a girl is stolen, but a dowry is not provided. Girls may be stolen when they are fifteen or sixteen years old. [Source:]

Kyrgyz Marriage Customs

In the old days, marriages were sometimes arranged before birth. This was called "marriage arrangement at pregnancy." Traditional courtship starts when the bridegroom calls on the bride's family with a roasted sheep. The relatives of the bride then tie the couple to posts in front of the tent. They will be released only after the father and brothers of the bridegroom ask for "mercy" and present gifts. The wedding is presided over by an imam who cuts a baked cake into two, dips the pieces in salt water and puts them into the mouths of the newly-weds as a wish for the couple to share weal and woe and be together for ever. The bridegroom then takes the bride and her betrothal gifts back to his home. [Source: |]

After the groom's relatives have been be notified about their son's intentions to marry a particular girl, they go together to the bride's home. Here a proposal takes place. When the parties have agreed, the groom's mother puts golden earrings in the bride's ears. This means that the young couple is engaged from this very moment. The custom of giving earrings is called “soiko saluu”. Then all decide the time and place of wedding - "Toi". [Source: ~~]

The bride must have a dowry, consisting of clothing, sleeping mats, pillows, and often a handknotted rug. The groom is expected to pay a bride price in the form of cash and several animals. Some of the cash may go toward furnishing the bride's dowry, and often the animals are eaten at the wedding feast. [Source:]

Many old marriage traditions and custom have succumbed to various Soviet and Western influences. There are also regional differences. For example, in the south where Uzbek influences are great, a young girl makes handkerchiefs (or serviettes) by cutting out squares of brightly colored material and the trimming it with macrame edging as Uzbeks do. These handkerchiefs are then given out to guests who come to see the bride after the wedding. [Source:]

Traditionally, there is a hierarchy of weddings within the family. The eldest son is expected to get married before his younger brothers do. The youngest son has to wait for all of his elder brothers to get married before he can attend his own wedding. Although this tradition is sometimes short-circuited it is more usual for it to be honored than to be breached.

Bride prices are usually paid in the form of livestock or consumer goods, not money. But these giving money has become more common. The paying of bride prices was banned in the Soviet era. The kalim (“bride price”) – is given to the girl’s family – usually in the form of livestock, (sheep, horses, cattle), but other articles are also given. Some families even make their own blankets, tush kiyiz, clothes and so forth. According to one source – the price of a bride can be as much as five horses – but a lot may depend upon the status of the relative families. The family of the groom is expected to pay for the wedding ceremony. Among Uzbeks and Uighurs it is usually the bride’s family that pays a dowry to the husband’s family.

Wedding Clothes and Places in Kyrgyzstan

Traditionally among the Kyrgyz, the groom gave his wife a dress, and she gave him a suit. These days, western style clothes may be preferred. The traditional bride’s dress is long, white with fancy embroidery in fine threads, and embellished with beads and sequins. On her head the traditionally-dressed bride wears a tall conical hat with a veil to cover her face. She also wears jewelry made from gold, jewels, pearls and coral, which may well be a family heirloom – handed down through the family for generations. [Source:]

The groom wears clothes made from dark velvet. A long coat, fastened with a leather belt, is often decorated with silver, gold and jewels. The edges of the jacket may be embroidered with traditional patters. Ensembles performing Kyrgyz traditional music often dress in a similar manner to the groom. At the Weddings Palace, attendants in national dress may line the approach to welcome guests for the couple.

The bride’s mother, sisters in law and friends erect a white yurt – and the groom’s party come to collect her and take her away. There is a custom, called Arkan tosuu”, where a rope (“arkan”) is placed across the road and a ransom is demanded for the bride, accompanied by songs and jokes. At this point the bride’s mother and female friends sing a “koshik”, or wail, to say “goodbye”.

During the Soviet period weddings lost much of their religious significance, and although religion is now enjoying a revival, many still opt for a civil ceremony at the local registry office (ZAKS). In the larger towns there is a special “Weddings Palace”. In Bishkek it is a large, white marble building on Sovietskaya near the Circus, almost opposite the National Library. Many couples now also go to church or mosque for a blessing of the union – but this may be on a different day. Some couples invite a mullah to the wedding to issue a blessing.

Weddings in Kyrgyzstan

A man courts his bride with a roasted sheep. Before the wedding the couple is tied to post and they are not set free until the groom’s family asks for “mercy”and offers gifts to the bride’s family. Usually, Muslim wedding rites are conducted. In the Soviet era, a formal wedding began with the registration of the marriage in the Communist party office. On the wedding day a feast was often held at sunrise to hide from Communist officials. The slaughter of sheep was also hidden.

A typical wedding lasts three days. The first day consists of the bride and groom going to the city with friends and classmates to have the marriage license signed. The bride wears a Western-style wedding dress, and the couple's car is decorated with wedding rings or a doll in bridal clothes.On the second day the bride and groom celebrate separately with their friends and family. There is food and dancing through the night. [Source:]

On the third day the bride and her family travel to the groom's family's house. The bride is expected to cry, because she is leaving her family. At the groom's house there are more celebrations and games. Gifts are exchanged between the couple's parents. At the end of the night, a bed is made from the bride's dowry. Two female relatives of the groom are chosen to make sure that the marriage is consummated and that the bride was a virgin.

Wedding Ceremony and Party in Kyrgyzstan

On her wedding day, the bride stays in her parents' home until she is taken to the groom's home according to a special rite. The bride may be brought to the groom's home immediately before the ceremony, or perhaps earlier in the day. In any case, even if the groom has kidnapped the bride, the bride's parents must send a dowry — "sep" — to the bride and groom. The sep generally includes new clothes for all seasons, blankets - "juurkan", pillows, special national wall and floor carpets called "shyrdak", "toosh-kiyiz" and "ala-kiyiz" made of felt and cutlery. [Source: ~~]

Modern well-to-do parents may give presents of furniture and home appliances. Aside from paying for the wedding, the groom’s family must pay the ransom - "kalym' — to the bride's parents. This sum may vary from a few tens of thousands of soms to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the wealth of the groom's family. Along with the kalym, the groom’s parents present a horse, two or three sheep and both parties present each other new clothes. These clothes are called "kiyit" and include coats, suits, dresses, shirts and kerchiefs.

The wedding ceremony is often held in the Palace of Weddings — "Bakyt orgosu" — where they register their marriage. Often rings are placed on the ring finger – usually by both husband and wife — after a Muslim blessing. After the ceremonies are complete the groom’s family place a scarf over the bride’s head as a symbol of blessing. (Married women tend to wear a scarf over their heads - and they also tend to wear less, and different types of jewellery.) [Source:]

See Muslim Wedding and Marriage

Wedding Feast

After the wedding ceremony at the wedding palace the just married couple travels around the city, visit famous monuments and scenic spots and lay flowers and have their photographs taken, before attending the reception. In the evening, around about five or six o'clock in the evening, everybody gathers in a restaurant or cafe where a wedding toi (party) is held with lots of feasting, drinking and presents and money in envelopes. During the wedding party it is important for everyone to stand and utter their wishes for the couple – starting with the respected elders (the Aksakals) and working through all the participants.

At a traditional wedding party guests feast on pilaf, roasted mutton and other foods in a yurt or several yurts. Traditional sad songs called koshok are sung by the bride's family and friends as she bids them goodbye and leaves for the party. When groom's folks come with the bride to the groom's home or yurt, the marriage celebration begins. Guests dance and sing and listen to storytellers recite parts the of the epic poem the “Manas”.

There wedding feast is called the Uilonoo Toi. Before the wedding ceremony, bride and groom's family had prepared clothes and other fancy articles for the big day. The girl's mom and friends camp an exquisite white yurt for the wedding and prepare a big feast. [Source:, official Kyrgyzstan tourism website]

After the Wedding

After a Muslim wedding the couple lives with the groom’s parents. The new bride spends three days in the home of her new in-laws, behind a curtain and visitors come to visit, to see the bride. A small fee has to be paid – and compliments are showered on her. Quite often the bride is given a number of dresses and each day she will wear a different one until she has worn them all.

After the wedding the young wife has no right to visit her own parents until she together with her new in laws pay a traditional visit — "otko kirgizuu" — in which she receives permission to leave the groom's house and visit the relatives. During this visit, the groom's parents offer a large present to the bride’s mother — "sut akysy". It is usually a cow. Symbolically, this means that they wish to compensate the bride’s mother for all the troubles and expenses she has endured in bringing up their “new daughter”. [Source: ~~]

The "Otko kirgizuu" is an initiation into the family hearth. One of the reasons for the ritual is so the grrom’s family can become more closely acquainted with their new daughter-in-law and her family. A young wife is considered an equal member of a new family only when she prepares her first dinner. The young wife goes with her mother- in-law to their relative's houses and they bring some presents with them.

The couple normally live with the groom’s family they move into a home of their own. If the groom is the youngest son he lives with his parents and takes care of them in their old age. Usually, the youngest son inherits the family home after fulfilling his “duty” of his parents. The new bride is known as a kelin, and it is her responsibility to take over the household duties from her mother-in-law. If the groom is not the youngest, the couple will live with his family only until they can provide the couple with a house. [Source:]

In some ways, the role of the daughter in law is basically one of subservience and servitude – she waits on her own husband and his parents. Once she has given birth to her firstborn child, or a younger daughter-in-law is accepted into the family, then her status in the family is raised. In his novella, “Djamila” – one of his earliest published works – Chinghiz Aitmatov explores some of the tensions of traditional family life as experienced by the heroine, Djamila, whose husband is away fighting at the front during the Second World War. [Source:]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.