Thai-ing the Knot, Part 2
"Then & Now" Marriage Customs in Central Thailand
So, as Part I explained, our young couple are now engaged to be married but within the bounds of custom and respectability. There is now ample time for them, and their families, to discuss and set the actual wedding date. This will be done after great pondering because the selection of an auspicious date is most important. The 12th lunar month is discarded immediately because Thai people, erroneously, used to think that only dogs mated in this month. But an even numbered month (because it's divisible by 2) may be considered which leaves us with the 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th and 10th lunar months. But by a little quirk (and who's to account for the quirkiness of superstition?), the 8th month may be dropped in favor of the 9th (September). The exception to this was in the Central Thailand region where the 8th lunar month heralded the arrival of the rainy season which afforded romantic nights! While even numbers suggest that our "twosome" will remain together, number 9 (in Thai) sounds as "Gao" (short tone) but, given a longtone (for longtime togetherness), it becomes "Gaooow" which means "progress". Other factors in determining the auspicious day may include individual and family commitments such as ploughing, sowing, harvesting, etc. So it's not easy to arrive at the most appropriate weddingday date!
However, once the day has been decided and begins to draw closer, the parents and ThaoGae (respected elder) of the bride will busy themselves in preparing three different levels of ceremonials. The first is "Khaan Maak Dtaeng Ekk" (meaning "major") which features the cash, gold pieces (necklaces, bracelets, rings, etc.) which are in the bride's dowry. Other items include leaves of gold, goldbronze, silver and the auspicious tokens of betel nuts and leaves, sesame seeds and raw rice. The consideration of decor is also within this first ceremonial so the preparation of ornate umbrellas and hanging flower arrangements are also important.
The second ceremonial to be prepared for is "Khaan Maak Dtaeng Tho" (meaning "minor") which is rather about the catering for the wedding reception what foods to order and prepare, which desserts to serve and which fresh fruits will complement the setting. They must all be both delicious and auspicious!
The third ceremonial to be planned for is the "Khaan Maak Dtaeng Boriwarn" which is the actual decorated, wedding procession. Celebratory archways of banana leaves, palm fronds and sugar cane trees must be crafted. They will be inter be young and healthy plants to reflect the pair's joy, vigor and happiness.
Taking it that our "wedstobe" live within the same area, the wedding and procession will be very convenient for all. Naturally, the groom will be growing nervous about his big day, the setting out of his personal Thaistyle formal clothes, getting ready and, making him most nervous of all, awaiting the signal from his intended bride that "all is ready".
The bride will request her bride's maids to take 2 or 4 trays of food, desserts and fruits and proceed to the groom's house. This signal, from the bride, was known as Khong Luen Teun Khaan Maak and her maids would progress in procession to the groom's home. Upon arriving, the groom's Khaan Maak procession would then leave the his home for that of the bride. The beginnings of the wedding day were under way!
"Bearers" in these traditional processions would be by invitation; for example, Khaan Maak Ekk (major) would be borne by an attractive young lady while Khaan Maak Tho (minor) would be carried by a young girl, or guy, who looked "cool". A widow or divorcee would never be asked to be a bearer. Strong men were required to carry the arches and trusses of banana leaves and sugar cane. There would also be a procession band composed of wind, string and percussion instruments. This made the walk a fun, jolly affair with singing and dancing as it headed towards the bride's home. And as the happy friends neared the bride's house, her bride's maids would hide her, somewhere in the house, in a mock game of "hide and seek".
As the groom's parade approached the bride's residence, it would be met by pairs of people boys and girls, relatives young and senior, friends each pair would have a "barrier" (maybe a length of silk or rope) stretched across the path of the procession. In fact, these barriers or "gates" (Pratu) were tollgates and to pass through a "fine" had to be paid. There would be Pratu Chai (Victory Gate), Pratu Ngern (Money Gate) and Pratu Thong (Golden Gate). At each barrier the groom's party would have to "pay" in cash, or small souvenir, to pass through. At the final gate, Pratu Thong (Golden Gate) the groom's ThaoGae (respected elder) will ask the guardians "What are you doing?" and their reply must always be "Pratu Thong"! To the correct response, the ThaoGae will reward the two gate guardians with something of higher value than the previous gates.
Slowly, the procession makes its way through and, at last, the bride is called from her home. In greeting her groom on heir wedding day, the young couple will jointly plant some sugar cane and banana trees close to the main house. Then the groom's party will be invited inside the house where they will pray, and pay respect, to the bride's ancestor. It is the spirits of her ancestors who protect the house so a single jossstick will be lit in reverence.
The groom's ThaoGae will now invite the bride's ThaoGae to open all the Khaan Maak so that the dowry may be inspected and witnessed by the gathered families and guests. ThaoGae and elders of both families will open the containers of sesame seeds, beans, powders, perfumes, etc. and will display everything along with the dowry valuables. The groom will offer the gold necklace, bracelet and ring to the bride and, in great excitement, the guests will approve the dowry to the bride. In turn, she will give a small gift or souvenir to the people who have carried the Khaan Maak. Next, the bridal couple, will give respect to their parents and elder relatives who have seated themselves in line of seniority. The couple will prostrate themselves before each elder and present a small tray of josssticks, candles and flowers. In turn, the elders will respond with their personal gifts to the couple and, perhaps, the parents will provide a gift of property, cash, gold or silver. These gifts from parents and elders are to assist the young couple with their new start in life. A life of being together and the beginnings of a new family. Soon the Buddhist monks will arrive and the actual marriage may begin!
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