Visitors to the Kingdom who have had the opportunity to experience a traditional Thai wedding ceremony are usually intrigued with the elaborate processes involved. In urban areas such as the capital Bangkok, the majority of weddings — at least the handful I’ve been to over the years — still incorporate traditional aspects of this into the important day, usually place either on the morning of the western-style evening reception, or on an earlier date.
Traditional weddings start with merit making and a blessing ceremony presided over by an odd number of Buddhist monks. This takes place early in the morning starting at a pre-determined auspicious time at either the temple or at the marriage venue. Other aspects of the wedding include khan maak (a procession led by the groom with offering to the bride’s family), the presentation of the bridal dowry, and rod nam sang, where guests pour lustral water from an ornate conch shell over the couple’s hands as a well-wishing gesture.
In Northern Thailand, however, pook kor mue — when blessed white strings are tied around the couple’s wrists — is held in lieu of the water pouring ceremony.
Other elements, including the preparation of the bridal bed, is considered very traditional and unfortunately not included in the weddings I’ve been honored to witness. For those who have not experienced the beauty of a traditional Thai wedding, these are some images I captured in the last event I attended to give you a taste.
It is common practice for guests to come bearing envelopes of cash (as opposed to presents) for the bride and groom.
The khan maak procession, led by the groom. In ancient times this is part of the engagement ceremony, when the groom will walk from his house to the bride’s bearing gifts. The procession is quite a festive one, with friends and family making a boisterous raucous alongside the sound of long drums.
Khan maak tray items can differ, but commonly include (clockwise from top-left): Thai desserts, bridal dowry, jewelry, ornate banana leaf vessels with sugar cane. These gifts are symbolic of prosperity, longevity, and fertility.
As part of the khan maak procession, the groom will have to pass two or three (or more) “gates”, symbolically made by a piece of string held by the bride’s friends and family. In order to gain “entry”, the groom and/or his elders must ‘bribe’ the gatekeepers with envelopes of cash. The closer to the bride the “gate” is, the more convincing the groom must be in his cash offerings. The groom will be teased about how he plans to look after his to-be wife, but the whole ceremony is done in jest.
The dowry is counted by the parents of both sides, after which they sprinkle flowers on it before it is carried away. In modern weddings, the dowry is often given back to the couple after the symbolic ceremony.
The ring exchange ceremony. Technically this is still the ‘engagement’ ceremony, which in today’s weddings is commonly combined with the wedding ceremony.
The couple receives blessings from both the groom’s and bride’s parents (and a real tear-jerker part of the ceremony!)
A senior family or guest of honor anoints the foreheads of the couple with a paste mixed with lustral water for good luck.
The senior family member then ties and places sai mong kon — two independent but interlinked circles made of blessed white thread — on the couple’s head. He then pours lustral water on the couple’s clasped hands.
Rod nam sang, as the water pouring ceremony is called, is technically the “wedding” part of the ceremony. Starting with the most senior members of the family and working down to the couple’s friends, all guests pour blessed water onto the couple’s hands from conch shells along with a few words of well wishes.
Small tokens of appreciation are handed out to all guests following the water pouring ceremony, afterwhich the day’s festivities usually culminates in a celebratory feast.