Sunday, July 16, 2006

TRAVEL: A Thai Wedding in Thailand

One of the most important times in anyone's life is their wedding. Thailand is no exception to that and weddings are the subject of rituals and celebrations there as much as anywhere else. As the first Travel article, I thought I would introduce my readers to a Thai wedding. More specifically, the wedding ceremonies when my wife and I were married in Thailand.

Since I am a foreigner, I get to wear traditional American clothing to my wedding - no, not tuxedo or coat and tails! That was entirely too expensive to buy when we were married and there were no tuxedo rentals in Thailand in 1969. I had a nice suit made for the occasion. My wife, of course, wore a traditional Thai bridal outfit, made of silk and silk brocade, also custom made for the occasion. That includes a lovely but very tall hair style.

A traditional Thai wedding ceremony involves both religion and custom, just as our weddings do in America. The details are different, as you might expect, between those two ceremonies! Our Thai wedding was conducted in the house of a very good friend of mine, another American, who had earlier that year retired from the Army and was living and working in Thailand. It is a Thai custom to share every happy event in a person's life with other people in the neighborhood. Ours was no exception and in addition to what you might expect, we hired a cook and some helpers to cook a large meal which was to be served both to the monks who came to bless our wedding in the Buddhist way and those neighbors who wanted (or needed) to have a good meal and share our happiness.

Beginning about 5:30 a.m., my bride and I, dressed in new clothes, waited outside the house for the monks from the local temple to walk by. They did this every morning, to give the lay people the opportunity to make merit by donating food and items of everyday use such as flowers, candles and the like to the monks. After we had given food to the monks, we had a larger table set up, like a buffet, and served the first few people from the neighborhood who came by to share our wedding breakfast. After the first few, we left it to the servants and went inside and changed into our wedding clothes to begin the Thai wedding.

The bride and groom give gifts of food and other useful items to the monks at the beginning of the ceremony. And, as this is the first day of their new life as wife and husband, they do so together. giftsYou will notice that the monks do not take things from our hands. They are forbidden by the rules of their monastic life to touch a woman even on the hand; this rule is so strictly enforced, they may not touch anything at the same time a woman does so. Because of this rule, you see that we place the food and other gifts on a cloth, which the monk then draws toward himself. gifts2 This allows us to give gifts to a monk together, without insulting him and without his violating his vows.

The monks chant Buddhist prayers in the Pali language, gives a brief sermon on marriage in Thai and perform other religious rituals. One of those is to "bless" a small bowl of water. This blessed water is used by the couple to pour over each other's hands, as a symbol of their union.water After the prayers and chants are completed, we moved along the row of seated monks, bowing to each as a sign of our respect for them, and each of them in turn sprinkled us with blessed water. blessing The sermon about marriage is quite a bit like the ones you hear from the priests, preachers, reverends and rabis who marry people in America. The biggest difference was that it was spoken in Thai, not English!

Once the monks have completed their part, the traditional - rather than the religious - part of the wedding starts. The couple knee on what look a lot like prayer benches - but aren't - and the oldest person from either family places a crown made of string on the heads of the bride and groom. These are connected and made from a single piece of string that was blessed by the monks earlier.blessing The symbolism is exactly the same as with the wedding rings: two people joined as one. crowns The elderly lady who is "crowning" us in these photographs is my wife's maternal grandmother. At the time, she was 92 years old and was both pleased and amused by her granddaughter marrying an American. Next and finally, each person beginning with the eldest, pours water over our hands while giving us their wishes for a long, happy and fruitful marriage. hands When this is over, the socializing begins. By this time it is about 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. and those who haven't had breakfast now have lunch instead! The monks eat also, as it is considered a blessing on the house for them to eat there. That was our first wedding ceremony, but there are two more to come!

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