Buddhist wedding traditions of Thailand

The Buddhist wedding traditions of Thailand differ dramatically from those of other countries, and most decidedly from those of the western world. The customs are sacred to the couple and their families, who take the traditions very seriously.

Nonetheless, in today’s Thailand, the extent to which couples strictly follow the customs varies significantly in different parts of the country. Usually, in the more rural areas, it is more likely that couples will follow older traditions.

Despite the fact that pre-wedding and wedding day ceremonies are conducted by Buddhist monks, marriages are not religious and are more about wishing the couple good luck through symbolism. Weddings take place in a private residence, usually at one of the couple’s relative’s homes, and not in a temple.

Proposals in Thailand

Traditionally, the prospective groom does not directly ask for his intended wife’s hand in marriage. Instead, the groom’s closest friend is the one who asks the intended’s father for her hand. Negotiating a dowry (sin sod) is part of the friend’s responsibilities. The dowry is a way to thank the parents for the good upbringing they gave their daughter. In some cases, money changes hands, and in others, it is only a ritual. An astrologer, who determines an auspicious wedding day, usually sets the date for the marriage.

The Ceremonies

The night before the wedding, there is a ceremony conducted by several Buddhist monks in which the couple pays respects to their ancestors.

Weddings begin early in the morning, usually around 6 a.m., with monks chanting and praying while a lit candle is placed in a bowl of water. The monks use this same water later to bless the couple. The couple and their relatives provide food for the monks and leave while they are eating. No one eats until the monks finish their meal.

The monks then continue chanting while the senior monk blesses the couple and their relatives with the holy water. Afterwards, the monks return to their temple and family members bring monetary donations.

In the afternoon, with family and close friends in attendance, the couple sits together on the floor, holding their hands in wai style (a symbol of respect). A string or flower chain connects the two. The senior monk holding a conch shell filled with holy water soaks the couple’s hands, wishing them good fortune for their future. (Water represents cleansing and luck, while the conch is symbolic of goodness.) All in attendance do the same, gently pouring water over the couple’s hands and wishing them luck.

A small basket placed nearby is for guests to place a gift, usually an envelope of money. Social status usually determines how much a person gives. Some couples give each guest a memento of their wedding day just before group photographs begin.

The Wedding Reception

The wedding reception usually begins around 6 p.m. and because many people will attend, the venue is usually a rented hall. The couple greets each guest. Dinner starts around 7 p.m., followed by the parents of the groom giving them a wedding flower. Someone, usually a best friend or relative gives a short speech followed by a toast where all the guests stand up and say three times “Chai-Yo” (Cheers).

The couple then cuts the wedding cake, and in a show of respect, serves their parents, older relatives, and the guest of honor. Photos are taken as the couple mingles and the groom’s friends offer more toasts. The groom should reciprocate, and the wise ones take only a sip for each of the many toasts to come. Dancing and drinking follows as the celebration continues.

At the conclusion of the wedding reception, elders present the newlyweds with roses for a proper send-off.

The Bridal Bed

In some of the more rural regions, an old couple is sitting on the newlywed’s bed when the couple arrives. The symbolism is to show evidence of a long and successful marriage. They may even say how lucky the bed feels, imparting a veiled reference to having children. The older couple may place coins, bags of rice, or other objects on the bed relating to prosperity and fertility. The tradition is for the couple to sleep with the objects for three days.

Many non-Thais getting married in Thailand choose to have a traditional Buddhist wedding because of the lovely symbolism, rituals, and spiritual blessings involved. This never presents a problem for the monks or the Thais, as they understand the powerful sentiments imparted and wish luck and prosperity to all married couples.