• Ancient customs can be lost through the ravages of time, but one community in the village of Draginovo, Bulgaria is committed to bringing one of them back. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Bulgaria's Pomak community have a beautiful bridal face painting ceremony, one that was quashed during Communist rule. But now younger brides are making an effort to embrace the tradition again.
Shami Sivasubramanian

3 May 2016 - 3:26 PM  UPDATED 19 May 2016 - 9:51 AM

Ancient customs can be lost through the ravages of time, but one community in the village of Draginovo, Bulgaria is committed to bringing one back - the tradition of "gelina", a bridal face painting ritual.

Similar to the Judaic-Christian white wedding dress, and Middle Eastern / South Asia red bridal garb, the gelina is a symbol a bride's purity.

The tradition is one belonging to the minority Bulgarian Muslim community, also known as Pomak, and has been resurrected by 24-year-old bride Emilia Pechinkova. Only eight per cent of modern-day Bulgaria's population is Muslim.

The first two days of her three-day wedding, which included the face painting ceremony, was captured by photographer Nikolay Doychinov for Getty.

The ritual involves a thick golden-metallic cream, called "belilo", being applied to the bride's face. The mask is then embellished with sequins and floral patterns. Finally the bride's facial features beneath the mask are highlighted, with kohl for the eyebrows and lipstick for the lips. 

The process can take up to two hours, and is usually carried out by female guests and relatives, who are sometimes accompanied by a professional make up artist.

After the wedding, once the imam gives a final blessing, the bride is escorted to her husband's home where he will take off her make up, completing the ritual.

The tradition of gelina has been a longstanding part of Pomak culture. However the practice was banned and stopped during Soviet rule, says Getty. The tradition has slowly resumed after the end of the communist era, with more and more modern young brides opting to include the ritual "regardless of their secular lifestyles and the high cost of such a wedding".

However SBS Bulgarian producer, Diana Koprinkova, who grew up in Bulgaria towards the end of the communist regime, does not agree the religious custom had been abandoned by the community ever. 

"These rituals are unique to Bulgarian Muslims," says Diana Koprinkova, a Christian, "but during the Communist Era, people always found a way to practice their faith in secret."

During Soviet reign, Koprinkova describes, practising any form of religion was banned. However people would still find a way to perform their cultural rituals and attend church or mosque. 

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"I remember going secretly to church with my grandmother. I was of primary school age," she explained. "There was a lady, a secretary [from the State] standing outside the church, marking down who was attending.

"So to avoid her, we would go to a different church, so [the State] wouldn't know where you're going. One time we went to three churches in a row. All 10 to 20 minutes walking distance from one another."

In spite of their testing past, these pictures show a minority community taking pride in a long standing unique tradition.

Here are more photos from Emilia Pechinkova's wedding and gelina ceremony.