In the last year I have been to quite a few Thai weddings. Weddings in Thailand tend to be a community event and are usually an entire days affair. Depending on the region of the country, the ceremonies that traditionally take place during a wedding vary and may occur in different orders. Last week I had the special opportunity of going to the wedding of my friend Um.
The day started at 8 am. Up until then Um had been getting her make up done and preparing her traditional Thai outfit ordained with gold jewelry. After she was done an elder went into her room and blessed her, putting a spell on her to give her good luck in the wedding by writing on her forehead with a pencil. This part was private and guests could not watch. Afterward guests could enter her bedroom and wait with her until the groom had is official entrance in the “Khan Maak” procession. He was already at the house earlier in the morning but left and waited at the end of the drive way for the traditional procession. In the past the groom would walk from his house to the bride's house. The couple is given an exact time for the groom to come. Before the wedding they consult a monk and are given an exact time that the wedding ceremony should begin by somehow putting their birth dates together and coming up with a time that will ensure they have good luck in marriage. Generally the time is around 9:00 am. Um and her husband's lucky wedding time was 9:19.
I waited with Um in her bedroom until the joyfully rhythmic music began blasting to signal the groom's entrance, for everyone to leave the bride as she must wait alone, and the start of the “Khan Maak” procession. The groom's family leads the procession carrying gifts and gold on trays that were traditionally given as a dowry to the wife's family. Now of days many families give the gifts to the newly weds. At the doorway to the house family and friends of the bride line the walkway, holding gold and silver chains, called 'pratoo tong' and 'pratoo ngoen,' across the pathway to playfully block the groom and his family from entering. In order to pass through the rows of chains the groom must “open the door” by giving envelopes of money to the people holding the chain to symbolize that he is worthy and able to take care of his wife to be. As the groom gets closer and closer to entering the house it becomes “harder and harder to open the doors” and he must give more and more money. The Khan Maak is a fun spirited and playful procession that brings friends and family from both sides together.
Once the groom and family has entered the living room to the house the bride exits her room to join everyone. The parents of both the bride and groom sit in front of the bride and groom to give their blessing in the engagement ceremony. There is a lot of bowing by both the bride and groom to both sets of parents and sometimes other elder relatives as they pat the heads of the now officially engaged couple. During the engagement ceremony the groom gives the bride a ring and sometimes a necklace or bracelet. In this wedding Um also gave her fiancé a Buddhist amulet.
Once the engagement is finalized the couple enters into the bride's bedroom for the official marriage ceremony. As the couple sits on the bride's bed they are blessed by an elder and then take turns giving each other a sip of water before resting their fingertips in another bowl of water. If the water is cool is represents a good marriage and their hearts match well. Usually the doorway to the bride's room is overflowing with spectators at this part, all trying to get a glimpse of the newly weds as they finalize the union.
At Um's wedding ceremony the marriage was followed by a Buddhist prayer ceremony. At other weddings I have been to though, this part typically takes place early in the morning, around 6 am or earlier. A group of about 5-8 monks chant while the head monk holds a candle. After the chanting the monks will bless everyone with holy water. The bride's family offers food to the monks, who eat before everyone else.
The final part of the morning ceremony is “Rodt Nam Song” or the shell ceremony. The bride and groom sit on cushioned seats placed in front of a decorated backdrop of freshly cut flowers. A specially prepared white thread is placed atop the couple's heads by an elder, linking them together. This thread, or “Sai Monkhon,” symbolizes that the couple's destines are now linked but they still retain their individuality. The elder then blesses the couple by marking their foreheads with a white powder and begins the “Rodt Nam Song” ceremony by pouring water of the couple's hands. The water is poured out of a beautifully gold adorned shell, down both the bride and grooms hands three times, where it then runs into a vase of flowers placed beneath. The rest of the family members and then friends line up to take part in the “Rodt Nam Song” and give their blessings to the newly weds.
This concludes the morning activities. By this time it was noon already so everyone ate and went home to rest before the evening reception, giving the bride and groom barely any time to rest between since they must change outfits and the bride must have her entire hair and makeup redone. For the evening reception the bride wears a white wedding gown, many more people attend, and lots of delicious food is served in a Chinese style dinner with about 7 courses. Speeches are made, music is played, a toast is given, slideshows are shown, and lots of pictures are taken as everyone celebrates this memorable day. At the end the couple walks around to individually thank everyone for coming, give them a small thank you gift, and are given gifts of money to help them begin their new life together.