nikolay doychinov

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Bulgarian Muslims Reviving Old Traditions

In the remote village of Draginovo, Bulgaria, Muslim brides are returning to the old tradition of gelina, or face painting, to mark their transition into married life.

Emilia Pechinkova is one of those young Muslim brides. The 24-year-old is a Slavic Muslim, part of a group often referred to as Pomaks. The elaborate wedding rituals of the Pomaks were suppressed while the country was under communist rule.

In an effort to recapture their forefathers’ customs, Pechinkova and her fiance Tsanko Perchinkov celebrated their love during a traditional three-day wedding ceremony. The festivities were captured by photographer Nikolay Doychinov on April 22 and 23.

During the gelina, Pomak brides are painted over with a thick cosmetic creme mask called belilo. An expert make-up artist spends up to two hours applying the mask and embellishing it with sequins arranged in floral patterns. Then, the artist applies lipstick and darkens the bride’s eyebrows. The bride’s family put her dowry on display in the room.

In order to keep the mask intact for the next several hours, the bride usually keeps her face very still. After an imam says a blessing, she is escorted by her family members out of her childhood home and to her groom’s house, where her husband will take off her makeup.

Although these rituals have been part of Pomak culture for years, they were suppressed during the time that Bulgaria was a satellite state of the Soviet Union. According to Reuters, the regime at that time tried to force Muslims to adapt the traditions of the country’s majority Christian Orthodox population. The traditional Pomak wedding ceremony was reportedly banned and was only resumed after the end of the communist era.

Today, Muslims are the largest minority religion in Bulgaria, making up about 8 percent of the population.

More Photos

Competitors are locked during a traditional wrestling tournament in the village of Draginovo, Bulgaria, on Sunday. Nikolay Doychinov/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

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