Returning to Bangkok mid March we were scheduled for a week long stay at the St James Hotel located just off Sukhumvit on Soi 26. Here we would experience Thai wedding rituals during the preparation, ceremony and follow up of my husband’s cousin’s marriage to his Thai bride.
Arriving in country in early February we had rendezvoused with the bride on a sunny Bangkok afternoon and gone to the tailor to be fitted for our wedding garb. The Chut Thai was of traditional brocade cloth and was elegant, but of course foreign to us. Our children got a good laugh when we shared pictures later in the day. I was excited, the sense of adventure and learning/participating in something new in this culture we have grown to admire is exactly what I look to experience. Sinking deep into the day to day lives of the places we travel to and it’s people is what gives our adventures real meaning.
We met with the bride and groom that first evening back in Bangkok over dinner to discuss what would transpire during the week of the festivities. While many Thai traditions would be honored some would be varied as is the case in many Thai/Farang marriages.
The following morning we were picked up by the couple to travel by taxi to honor the monks and make merit at the temple and ask for their blessings on the union. Wan Phra (Monk Day) was completely new to us but we were game to participate in all aspects of the marriage rituals. Wat Mahabut was our host for this initiation of blessings to be showered on the bridal couple.
The Thai Buddhist culture is very intriguing and the practices very foreign to a Christian American, yet similar in ways as well. Wan Phra is a day of worship not set aside to Sunday’s but determined by phases of the moon. Attendees bring food and drink for the monks because on this day they only eat once and do not leave the temple as is typical in the collection of daily alms. In my understanding, giving to the monks is a way to make merit and receive blessings for a good life. (Please note that all information here is merely my personal interpretation.)
We were joined on this day by several members of the brides family. We removed our shoes and entered the open air worship hall, all of us carrying the food we had brought. We were escorted by a man, whom I will call an Elder, to the back of the hall where we sorted and placed the food on large round trays. These were taken by women workers to a table at the rear of the temple. The bride conferred with the Elder explaining wedding plans and location. One of the women workers handed us each back a bag of rice which was part of what we had brought in. We were escorted to a table where 18 wooden bowls were arranged in three rows of six. We followed suit as other parishioners placed small amounts of rice from their own bags in each bowl.
We were then escorted to the central area of the worship hall to join others sitting cross legged in a haphazard seating arrangement on the floor. In front of us on a dais were 18 monks. Another man, (I will also describe as an Elder), prepared a microphone and began a 40 minute recitation which at some points the parishioners bowed their heads and placed their hands wai style at their hearts or forehead and chanted along or chanted response. I have been reading quite a bit on the Buddhist faith and practices and believe all this was recitation about the precepts.
Monks then received their bowls of rice and each person/couple or family were given back a tray or packs of water or juice to present to a monk of their choosing. We participated and were blessed by the monk as well for our giving. The monks ate to their fill as social hour happened amongst the attendees. We were greeted and welcomed by many and made to feel quite comfortable and accepted. An offering plate was carried past all attendees by one of the elders and the collection was meant for the upkeep of the temple. The feeling of peace and contentment over the entire gathering was quite astounding.
When the monks completed their meal the remaining food on the trays was retrieved and set amongst the parishioners who in turn shared with one another and enjoyed more “communion”. The bride explained to us that these foods being blessed by the monks were meant to insure that as we consumed we would be blessed in the afterlife and that symbolically we were insuring our ancestors if they had not made merit in their own lifetime were blessed as well to insure sustenance and hydration.
With the meal complete, the bride and groom were called to the front and asked to kneel before the monks. Water was poured into a basin and passed before each monk who instilled a blessing. The water was given back to the Elder who then took a small whisk style broom, dipped it into the water and as the bride and groom continued to kneel with their heads down in their folded hands splattered their heads with the water as he invoked, with chanted words, the blessings of the monks on their Union. He then poured the remaining water into a bottle and presented it to the brides oldest brother for use in the marriage ceremony. A small amount that did not fit in the bottle was presented to the bride who left the worship hall and went to a tree nearby and poured the water at its roots. She explained to me later that this was to insure that anyone who had not made enough merit in life could attach its spirit to this tree to insure hydration in the afterlife. The symbolism in the Thai culture is amazing and Animism and the power of spirits is interspersed heavily into their belief system as well. (Please note that I only took the one picture inside the worship hall as I did not want to be disrespectful.)
Following the services, the family escorted us to the shrine of this temple dedicated to a woman named Mae Nak. It also had a beautifully eerie feel. Take the time to read her story in this link. http://siamandbeyond.com/mae-nak-shrine-home-thailands-famous-ghost/
Pampering was in order for the remainder of the day and the bride and I headed off for cream oil massage, facial, manicure and pedicure. We drank hot Thai teas and frozen mango juice and were waited on by the giggling staff as the bride described her online meeting, courtship and proposal to my husband’s cousin, the farang. She told the tales in both Thai and English and we all teased her about her excitement. She bragged about her fortune of finding a good man who understood her very conservative Thai nature. This was no “mail order” arrangement for designs on sex only and she related the stories of making this quite clear to the groom during their first meeting. That was four years ago. I admire them for overcoming the challenge of diverse backgrounds; great distance and language barriers to follow their hearts. Their home will be in Thailand but the groom will work to his full retirement which is a long eight years from now. In the meantime they will have 6-8 weeks a year together. I will keep them close in my heart with the hopes they can meet all their goals. That evening we treated the bride and groom to a night out on the town bachelor/bachelorette style with dinner followed by drinks and live music.
The day before the ceremony was similar to all weddings with final preparations and banquet room set up to be completed. The ceremony and reception would both take place at the St James. We ran through the day’s events which would start at 3pm and go to midnight. The tailor was also the master of ceremonies. She would arrive at 11am with the wedding garb. We were set to rendezvous at the bridal suite at noon to prepare for the wedding. My husband and I would play the role of the grooms parents as we were the only Americans to be in attendance.
The wedding day arrived, sun shining as was its custom during this time of year. At noon precisely I made my way to the bridal suite where the brides mom, brothers wives, and bridesmaids were gathering. A lady boy was in tow with the emcee. (S)He attended to our hair and makeup. The men arrived about a 1/2 hour before the celebration was set to begin and some pre ceremony pictures were taken. There is no custom as in the US that dictates the bride is not seen by the groom and they end up walking down the aisle together.