Thai-ing the Knot, Part 3
"Then & Now" Marriage Custom in Central Thailand
As we learned in Part II, the Bridal Couple with their respected elders, family and friends have gathered in the Bride's parent's home awaiting the arrival of the Buddhist Monks so that the actual marriage may be solemnized.
When the monks arrive, there will be nine in number and they will seat themselves, facing the gathering, in a semicircular line. The Wedding Couple will begin the ceremony by lighting a candle, burning joss sticks and placing an alms bowl, half full of holy water, in front of a Buddha image. The monks will begin to chant, in the old Pali language, which reminds people to practice the tenets of Buddhist philosophy so that happiness may fill their lives.
This merit making ceremony (known as "Taam Boon" or "Dtug Bart") is one of the most important during the wedding day. The Bride and Groom will lead others in offering food and refreshments to the monks; using a large spoon which they jointly hold, the couple will place steamed rice into the alms bowl of each monk. Inviting participation from their elders, seniors relatives and friends, the wedding pair will then offer an array of food to the monks prepared dishes, fresh fruits and desserts. As Buddhist monks are not permitted to eat after 12 noon, this is the reason why food is offered to the monks well before that time. Later, the monks will chant their thanks and good wishes for happiness and progress in life.
During the few minutes of introductory solo chanting by the Senior Monk, the wedding couple will jointly pour holy water, drop by drop, from one small receptacle into another. As the drops fall, they will respectfully think of their ancestors, think of merit making and, perhaps, make a wish that they will meet their ancestors in some future life. This little prayer ceremony is called "Gruad Naam" and, as soon as the other monks join their Senior in chanting, the water pouring will cease.
The couple will now kneel within the semicircle made by the nine monks and they will each, bride and groom, be adorned with a white yarn headband called a "monkol". The headbands are connected to each other symbolizing unity and matrimony. The monks, in turn, pass a long length of white yarn from hand to hand. This is the "sai sin" (sacred cord) which starts from the right hand of the Buddha image and will be clasped by each monk before being looped around the entire room (or house) thereby protecting all within from any malicious spirits.
The couple, kneeling with heads bowed, palms together in prayer and clasping smoking joss sticks, listen as the Buddhist ceremony begins. The Senior monk will intone a long prayer and blessing on the union and this will be interspersed with chanting from the other assembled monks. This will be a very solemn thirty minutes. When finished, the Senior monk will sprinkle holy water over the pair as well as other participants; he will use a sprig of "ma yom" (a local shrub) to dip in the water and then shake over the kneeling bride and groom signifying that they are now man and wife. Shortly after, the monks will make their departure and leave the newlywed couple within the fold of their families, relatives, friends and invited guests.
Further ceremony is taken up by the families; the "rod naam" (pouring of lustral/holy water from the alms bowl) soon follows and the couple, once more, kneel side by side on a small platform linked, as before, by their "monkol" headbands. The pair's forearms rest on a low, decorative table and the hands face downwards with the palms pressed together. Surrounded by bridesmaids and relatives, the most senior member of the family will anoint the forehead of the girl and her new husband. Three white dots, prepared from powder made and blessed earlier by the monks, will be dabbed onto each forehead. Then, the family elder will pour water over the couples' hands and this will continue as other family members file past, each pouring a little water and offering a personal prayer for wedded joy and bliss.
It One lovely piece of Thai fun is that the "new wife's" parents invite a happily married, older couple (possibly who have parented a host of sons and daughters) to "ceremonially" make the marriage bed. Then the "new husband's" parents and senior elders will wait with him at the doorway to the nuptial bedroom. In turn, the parents and elders of the girl will escort her to her new husband and give a short speech along the lines of "Please take care of our daughter. Do not neglect or abandon her and always be understanding towards each other".
In this gentle way, the parents draw attention to the responsibilities of husband and wife is worth noting that, during this lustral water pouring ceremony, small, elaborate bowls are strategically placed so that water, draining from the couples' hands, is caught before causing any problem. These bowls are designed with ornate patterns symbolizing the happy union and are usually filled with lotus petals.
After the last guest in procession pours water, the new husband and wife may begin to relax. Formality gives way to informality as smiles, congratulations and jollity take over. A feast of Thai foods will be offered to the guests and, likewise, a selection of drinks. Everyone will enjoy it is "sanook maak, maak" and, before long, ramwong dancing will begin. It has been a big day for all concerned, especially the newly married couple, so now it is time for celebration with plenty of fun and laughter.
Next, the newlyweds will be invited to lie down on the bed with the husband on the right (closest to the door should the need arise for him to deal with burglars, fire, etc.) and his new wife to the left. Happily, all parents, senior elders and relatives now leave the newlyweds alone and make their exit. And so too, must we with the exception of saying that for a day soon after the wedding ceremonies the couple must present themselves for marriage certificate at their local Government Amphur (District) Office where the marriage details may be officially noted and recorded. Even in the relaxing style of Thailand, bureaucracy must be satisfied!
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