The History of a Traditional Thai Wedding Ceremony
Many traditional Thai weddings are still arranged and take place with adherence to centuries old traditions. Though much rarer now than in former times, in some areas, particulary rural ones and amongst families in high society, couples are still matched, in some cases to people they hardly know. These matches are arranged by the parents of two young people who come from similar socio-economic backgrounds, and from families with mutually favorable views of the youngsters respective backgrounds and rearing.
While this kind of matchmaking is much rarer than it used to be, dowries are still often expected and given, even when the young couple have courted and chosen one another. The amount of the dowry is negotiated by the parents, however in contrast to India for example, where custom dictates payment of a sum of money or property by the bride's family, in Thailand it is the reverse, with the groom's family paying the family of the bride for the loss of not only a daughter, but a valued worker and caregiver. The value of a dowry will vary depending on the social and economic status of the woman being "given away."
Fifty thousand baht may be paid to the family of a farm girl, while many hundreds of thousands or even millions of baht may be offered in matches involving wealthy merchant class or high society families.
When a Thai says they are married, it is often in the Buddhist, though not neccesarily legal sense. Of primary importance is sanctification and blessing by monks, which is enough for many couples who see no need to officially register their marriage, or who choose not to do so for other practical reasons. As in many parts of Asia, the wife is still seen by society as being subordinate to her husband, and a marriage is sometimes likened to an elephant, where the wife is the hind legs.
Traditionally, the engagement took place during a ceremony called Thong Mun, when the man presented a gift of gold to his fiancee. The ceremony was attended by parents, relatives and friends. The gold was likely to be in form of a necklace, measured in weight using a system called the baht (also the name of the currency used in Thailand.)
One baht of gold is the equivalent of 1 troy ounce, or about 15 grams. A minimum of 2 baht is given, but never an amount that is not divisible by two. The fianceed couple are henceforth referred to as "Kumun" until they are married.
The engagement may take place well in advance of the wedding, or it may be precede the wedding on the same day.
In former times payment of the dowry or "sinsod" also merited a ceremony, called "Sinsod Tongman" when the money and/or property were formally presented.
In modern times, the payment is often made at the wedding, and the engagement ceremony may have been deemed unnecessary. However the wedding rituals presided over by the monks remain elaborate and often lengthy.
The ceremony may be held in the home of the bride, or finances permitting, a hall, restaurant or hotel.
A number of monks - anywhere from 3 to 9 attend, with a senior monk leading the recitation of Pail chants that bless the union. This must take place in the morning, allowing the monks who cannot eat after midday, to partake of an offered meal, following. All are seated on the floor or a platform, and the setting is adorned with a Buddha image, an altar, fragrant flowers, candles and incense.
The chants are followed by application of powdered incense to the foreheads of the bride and groom, a symbolic presentation of coiled string, and finally the pouring of water over the couple's hands, first by the village elder and then one by one, by all of the guests.
Those who attend the ceremony are also invited to the party afterwards, where during a copious meal the bride and groom go from table to table to pay their respects to their guests.
Traditionally they will present each with a small souvenir and at this time gifts of cash in envelopes are placed on a tray carried by the couple.
Other gifts such as useful household items may also be presented to the couple at this time.
In ancient times a wedding chamber ceremony followed the party, when a married elderly couple would prepare the wedding bed and place on it a plate with offerings of food symbolizing fertility, while other token symbols of good luck and prosperity were placed in the room.
Meanwhile a silver and a golden barrier were created outside the room by the guests, through which the couple passed before proceeding to the wedding chamber, where they were advised by their elders of their future responsibilities, and had their union blessed. The guests then retire leaving the couple alone.