Traditional Weddings

By Ma Thanegi , photo By Lwin Ko Taik

Weddings for the Buddhist families of Myanmar take place before or after the Buddhist Lent lasting from July to October. Since weddings have nothing to do with Buddhism, monks never officiate although food is offered to a number of monks in a separate ceremony by the new couple. If they want to combine this food offering ritual with feeding their guests, the monks are served earlier in a separate pavilion or their monastery dining room, and guests are fed in a hall reserved for this purpose. Marriages of signing the deed in the presence of a judge can take place during Lent but without the traditional wedding or even a reception to mark the occasion; secular celebrations and festivities cannot happen during Lent including pagoda festivals because there are always dance shows at these venues.

  Marriages are not forced but sometimes arranged especially among the very wealthy and handled discretely. The parents will make sure that the young people have a chance to get to know each other with well-chaperoned social outings. Burmese young people tend to go about in groups, so this is very convenient.  In such arranged or approved marriages, the pair knew each other already for with the extended family system of the Burmese, and with a great many social occasions, most people of a town or even the city know each other.

And certainly any eligible young man will know who the eligible girls are: and vice versa. But nowadays most of the young people choose their own life-partner, but make sure they are acceptable to each other’s family.Weddings can be as elaborate or simple, and it is legal as long as the bride and groom are of age and willing to enter the state of matrimony which they will declare in the presence of some witnesses. A few neighbours can be invited to have tea and cakes, and the couple pays homage to elders, who will pronounce them man and wife: it is that simple. Now, they usually sign the register in the presence of a judicial officer.If a grand civil ceremony is preferred, it is a beautiful event. First, the invited guests will sit and wait in a large hall; on the stage will be arranged two thick velvet cushions, with a large silver bowl between them. Silver vases and bowls of flowers are set up around the stage. Gentle music will be played with the traditional harp and xylophone.At exactly the auspicious time chosen by astrologers, the Master of Ceremonies will announce that it is time for the bridal couple to enter the hall. A special song, the Burmese equivalent of Here Comes the Bride, will be sung by a famous singer hired for this purpose.First, a young girl carrying a basket or tray of flowers enters to scatter flowers along the red-carpeted aisle, or maybe there might even be three, in succeeding ages. They will be dressed in the court costume, that is, a thin, long sleeved over-jacket with a flared waist over a satin bodice; a wrap-around waist garment of silk edged at the bottom with a train of white silk which drags about 10 inches on the ground.Next enters the groom’s parents. They will be dressed in ordinary but formal wear: which means a high chignon for the mother, a long scarf draped on her neck, long sleeved jacket with a short waist, and a silken waist garment up to her ankles. The father will have a waist-long white over jacket, long sleeved, with a silk waist garment, and a silk turban on his head. This is very thin silk wrapped around a woven cane base with a long corner hanging free on the right side. The colour of the scarf and turban of course will correspond with the colour of the waist garments. The whole wedding party will wear one theme colour, never dark nor anything blue or green. The favourites are yellow and pink. The bride may wear white, but in that case others will not wear it as well.Their son will follow; he too will be dressed like his father, in a white over jacket over his white shirt, but the cut may be more formal. His waist garment may be the formal length of 9 yards, folded neatly with a long end flowing down the front. He too will wear a turban. After him will come his two or more best men.They will step onto the stage; the groom will take his seat on the right hand side cushion facing the guest; the best men will sit behind him, and his parents to the side. The flower girls will sit at the far end of the stage.When they are seated, the bride’s parents enter, followed by the bride. She will be dressed in the same court costume as the flower girls, but her train will be much longer, and her silk garments embroidered with pearls and sequins. A thick line of jeweled necklaces will be hung around her neck, all fer fingers ringed, with three or four pairs of bracelets around her wrists. She might even wear the thick gold circlets around hert ankles, over velvet slippers. A very long scarf will be draped over one shoulder and allowed to flow behind, much like the veil. This too drags on the ground. Her chignon will be high, with a long tress falling from the right side. Her hair will be decorated with a comb and hair pin set with diamonds, and clusters of orchids. The favourite bridal flower is the Thazin, tiny sprigs of white orchids, very fragrant, very rare; during the king’s days only those of royal blood were permitted the use of this flower. The bouquet she carries will match her dress in colour.Two or more bridesmaids, dressed much the same way but without a scarf and with shorter trains will follow her, carrying posies. They also carry small fans, to fan the bride as they sit behind her. When the bride is seated on her cushion, the ceremony begins. This will be done by the Master of Ceremonies who will talk about the families and the couple, and he will announce each step the bridal pair must take: such as paying homage to the Buddha, to the elders, to the parents. He will take the right hand of the groom, place it palm up over the silver bowl, take the bride’s right hand, and put it palm down in the hand of the groom. Then he will wrap a long white scarf around the two clasped hands, and then pour blessed water out of a silver jar over the hands. Sometimes this step is done by Brahmins or the parents. The bride and groom must then eat of the same plate. Some verses are recited by the MC who finally announces the rituals re completed  at which point the waiters will enter with trays of food, tea and cakes, and ice-cream  or a complete meal with rice and curry, for the guests.These are not religious rituals, however but all of this grandeur gives a most solemn dignity to the beginning of a marriage.

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Ma Thanegi writes prolifically about Myanmar, especially the people who are the country’s true representatives. She lives in Yangon."


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