I was telling you before about the Thai wedding I recently attended. The first part of the ceremony was for Making Merit and the Blessing of the Monks. On the wedding invitation I received, the next event was scheduled to start at 9 a.m. This is the parade of the groom and his family and friends from his house to the house of the bride. Though typically, they normally start their parade just around the corner. This starts as soon as the monks have left as they no longer take part in the wedding ceremony. The procession is only for members of the groom’s family and friends. They are basically escorting him to the house of the bride’s parents where the elders will discuss the dowry payment. Leading the procession are a group of young ladies performing the ramwong dance. A lot of hand movements are typically used for this. Behind them are a traditional Thai band used for such processions – they have long drums and cymbals. Next comes the banana plants and sugar cane plants. After the ceremony has finished, the banana plants are planted in the garden. By the time the couple have children, the plant will be ready to provide food and nourishment for the baby. Taking up the rear are the people carrying the gifts and food for the family of the bride.
As the procession approaches the house, they see that their way is blocked by three gates which act like a kind of “toll-gate”. To pass them, the father of the groom has to negotiate the price of a safe passage. At each gate, usually made up from silver and gold coloured belts, the price of the toll becomes higher. As you can see from this picture, a female member of the bride’s family wants a higher price than the one offered. The father of the bride has to make sure that he has enough money envelopes to pay off all the female relatives standing at each gate. Eventually they arrive at the house. The gifts are brought into the front living room and the banana tree and sugar cane plant are left at the front door to provide their own symbolic doorway.
Inside the house, senior members of each family carefully inspect all the wedding gifts. The amount of the dowry, or sin sod in Thai, to be paid by the groom to the bride’s family, had been agreed upon several months before. They were now making sure everything is in order. The food is an offering to the dead ancestors. The ceremony tells them that the couple are intending to get married. Common offerings include banana, coconut, boiled rice, meat, alcohol and Thai sweets. The number of trays offered has to be an even number to represent the couple.
The money is laid out on a cloth. This is largely symbolic as it is often returned to the couple to use after the wedding has finished. But, traditionally, it is as seen as payment for the “mother’s milk”. Again it is for the ancestors to see that this marriage is legally binding. The amount of money offered has to be an even number. If the wife desserts her husband for a reason that is not valid, then he can claim it back. Next the bride and groom present each other with gold rings and necklaces. The senior relatives then bless the money and other gifts. In the picture above, you can see various kinds of leaves in the bowls. All of these have auspicious names. Such as “gold leaf” and “silver leaf” which will mean that they will have a prosperous life.
Next the relatives, in order of seniority, will come forward to bless the couple. They will tie the “sai sin” on the wrist of each couple. To do this properly, you need to stroke the wrist of each couple first and then tie the knot. You can say a blessing at the same time. They will then prostrate in front of you, unless of course you are a junior member of the family. If you have come to this part of the ceremony, then you will see that there is a bowl next to the couple which you use to make an offering. You put the money in the same envelope that you received your invitation. This is usually pink. It already has your name on the outside so there is no reason to write anything else. Most people give at least 500 baht. You can give more if you are close to the couple. Weddings are expensive so this money helps pay for it.
The main part of the wedding ceremony is the blessing of the couple with lustural water. For this wedding, this took place at about 10.30 a.m. or 90 minutes after the procession to the house. If you want to skip the earlier chanting and the negotiation of the sin sod, then just turn up late for this part. This is often done at the house, though some people arrange for this to take place at the wedding reception in the evening. The ceremony is presided over by a senior member of the family or an invited guest who knows the rituals. A kind of spell is incanted which bless their future together. Then the “twin crown”, called “mongkhon faet” in Thai, is placed on their heads at exactly the same time. This is similar to the “mongkhon” worn by Thai boxers during their blessing ceremony. However, this version comes as a pair as there is a thin thread connecting the two. The dots, using the white paste earlier blessed by the monks, are then put on the forehead of each couple.
Relatives and friends then line up to take turns blessing the couple. If you decide to attend this ceremony, then you will need to pay attention to see how it is performed. Notice that the bride is sitting on the groom’s left. So, you first bless the groom. There will be someone standing by the bowl who will fill the small conch with the blessed water. You will probably spot some of the “silver leaf” and “gold leaf” and even “love leaf” leaves floating in the water. Hold the conch in your right hand with the left hand supporting it. Then pour some water up and down of the outstretched hand of the groom. At the same time, say something like “may you always be happy and live a long life together”. Make sure that you don’t use up all the water as you need to repeat this ritual for the bride.
By the time the last person had blessed the couple and photos had been taken standing next to the bride and groom, more than four hours had passed. I am not sure about the happy couple, but I was certainly tired. I had just taken nearly 1,000 pictures during the morning. But, it is not over yet. The main wedding reception was scheduled for that evening. I will share with you pictures of that later.
There was actually one more ceremony that took place though I wasn’t invited. This is called the “arranging of the pillows” or “riang mon” in Thai. This takes place in the bedroom. The sin sod is placed on the bed together with the auspicious leaves. The bride and groom lie down on the bed with the sin sod between them. The bride to the left and the groom to the right. Someone who has been happily married for many years will then give instruction to the couple about how to lead a successful marriage. As this is a family website, I won’t go into details of some of the topics discussed.
Main sources of information:
Monks and Magic by B.J. Terwiel (White Lotus)
Essays on Thai Folklore by Phya Anuman Rajadhon
Related Blogs and Articles: Probably the most famous Thai Wedding on the Internet was of Thailand’s famous Internet teenager, Panrit “Gor” Daoruang. You can read all about his wedding and see the photos at thailandlife.com. About three years ago, I wrote a popular blog called How to Get Married Cheaply. It was a kind of mass wedding ceremony where a group of couples got married at the same time. Our Steve wrote about his own wedding in a blog called Getting Married……In Thailand and our resident Thai blogger, Oakmonster, writer about her Thai wedding in America in Temple of Love. Finally, if you are dating a Thai girl or boy, then you might find our Relationships Forum useful as it helps with cultural misunderstanding and procedures like meeting the family for the first time. You need to register to see this forum. It is quick and free to do so.