A Khmer wedding symbolizes the beautiful legend of the origin of Cambodia and parallels the marriage of the first Khmer prince, Preah Thong, to the Naga princess, Neang Neak. The prince was a foreigner exiled from his homeland and during his travels encountered and fell in love with the Naga princess. As a marriage gift, the father of the Naga princess swallowed a part of the ocean, and thus formed the land of Cambodia.
A traditional Khmer wedding is one of the most joyous occasions for a Khmer family and typically lasts from three days to an entire week. It is a grand affair, full of color and festivity that is steep in tradition. Family, friends, and other members of the community come together to share in the celebration. Musicians play traditional instruments throughout the day. The bride and groom are dressed as royalty, with the bride changing her outfit several times during the ceremony . If the wedding were a weeklong affair, she could declare the color of her dress each day and the guests would dress only in that color.
Unlike most Western weddings, guests are usually highly animated during the ceremonies, with elders typically explaining the significance of the various customs to the younger generation. Please feel free to turn to a neighbor if you should have questions or comments about what is occurring. You may also stand up and leave the room if you need to stretch your legs since the wedding is done sitting on the floor. Guests freely move in and out and during the ceremony, which is not considered rude.
Presentation of Dowry
Cambodian weddings begin with the groom and his family traveling to the bride’s home bearing gifts to the bride’s family as a dowry. Family members and friends are introduced and wedding rings exchanged. Three traditional songs accompany the presentation of dowry:
Neay Pream Hae Kaun Komlawh (Arrival of the Groom): A song telling the story of the groom and his family’s journey to the bride’s house bearing meats, fruits, pastries, drinks, and desserts of every variety to be presented on the wedding day.
Chambak Rouy (Presenting the Dowry): A dialogue between the matchmakers, parents, relatives, and friends of the bride and groom in which the groom’s family and friends officially present the dowry gifts to the bride’s family.
Pak Paeuk Pisa Sla (inviting the Elders to chew betel nut): Presentation of the betel nut to the bride and groom’s elders. In turn, parents of both the bride and groom ask for blessings and well-wishes for their children.
Order of Events
FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2011
HAE GOAN GOMLAWH- THE GROOM’S PROCESSIONAL
At the beginning of the day, the bride customarily waits at her parent’s house while the groom gathers a procession of his family and friends. The procession symbolizes the journey of the Prince Preah Thong to meet his bride the princess Neang Neak. The groom’s procession approaches the bride’s home bearing wrapped platters of gifts, usually fruits and Khmer dessert and is led by a band of musicians and singers.
Traditionally, the MAE-BA ( a well-represented member of the bride’s family who serves as its representative) comes out to greet the procession. The different number of fruits and desserts are counted- the more, the better. If found to be satisfactory, the MAE-BA and MA-HA (representative for the groom’s party) run through a humorous verbal parlay which ends with the groom and the rest of the procession being invited into the bride’s home.
SEIN DOAN THAA- CALL TO ANCESTORS
In Khmer Culture, family bonds are the ones that are the most important and a marriage is the inclusion of the couple into their new families. At all important events, family and friends are called upon to share in the celebrations and offer their blessings. This ceremony calls forth for those who have passed away, both family and friends, to offer their blessings and observe the wedding, if not in body, in spirit. It is a time to reflect on those near and dear to our hearts and remember to include them in our happiness.
SOAT MUN- BLESSINGS FROM THE MONKS
Out of respect and reverence for the monks, we ask that you remain silent while the bride and groom receive their blessings during this ceremony. Traditionally, three to five monks will invoke blessings which have been specifically chosen for the couple by the monks.
GAAT SAWK- CLEANSING CEREMONY
Before the bride and groom are officially married in the Khmer tradition, they must be properly prepared through an elaborate cleansing ceremony. The singers, representing visiting therveda (deities who watch over the mortal realms), dance around the bride and groom. Their songs represent their enchantment with the beauty of the new couple, and they agree to personally cleanse and purify the bride and groom to bring them good fortune, beauty, and grace for the rest of their lives. The therveda cut the hair of the couple and shave the groom, throwing away any excesses and misfortune that may have lingered. The new couple is also perfumed. At the conclusion of this ceremony, the visiting therveda return to the realm of tansour (heaven), the home of the gods and deceased ancestors.
BANG CHHAT MADAIY- HONORING OF THE PARENTS
“Honor your parents as you do the gods”. This common Khmer sentiment is rooted in a Buddhist parable about not forgetting “kun”- a kind act or deed for which one owes repayment (a debt of gratitude). A monk explains to a temple visitor that without parents, one cannot be brought into the world to honor the gods in the first place.
The traditional song that is performed is a reminder to the bride of the hardships of raising a child. It is a song of parental duty and fulfillment, which the bride and groom will one day experience for them. During this ceremony, the bride holds an umbrella over mother, a gesture that symbolizes the reversal of the protective role of her parents.
BONGVUL PBOPUL- PASSING OF BLESSINGS also known as SEVEN ROTATIONS
In this ceremony, currently married couples are asked to gather in a circle around the bride and groom. Three candles are lit and handed from person to person. Each participant passes his or her right hand over it in a sweeping motion towards the couple, sending or throwing a silent blessing to them. The flame of the pure bee wax candle represents anger, which the couple should avoid as it can disrupt the marriage relationship. The smoke of the flame, however, is sacred enough to protect them from all evils if they sincerely committed to each other. Family members who receive the candle motion their hands over the flame to guide the smoke of the sacred fame over he bride and groom. Only married couples are asked to participate, as it is believed that they will pass along the special quality or essence which has preserved their union. The candles are passed around the circle clockwise seven times to complete the ceremony.
SATURDAY, MAY 21, 2011
SOMPEAS PTEM- KNOT TYING CEREMONY
Khmer weddings traditionally have a knot tying ceremony, but unlike what the name implies, it is the guests who the tie the knots, not the bride and groom. Close family and friends are invited to come forward to bring their wishes and blessings to the new couple by individually tying ribbons around each of the their wrists. These knots are tied on both the bride and groom, who were traditionally required to wear the for three day afterwards to preserve for good luck. This ceremony has customarily been considered an ideal opportunity to take a picture of each guest in attendance with the new couple.
In this final and most memorable stage of the wedding, family members, and friends tie the bride and groom’s left and right wrists with blessing strings. The praises and well-wishes of happiness, good health, success, prosperity, and long lasting love are acknowledged and witnessed by the sound of the gong (traditional instrument) and joyful cheer. The ceremony concludes with a shower of palm flowers thrown over the new couple. Four songs accompany this ceremony:
Phat Cheay: A melody inviting the bride, accompanied by her bridesmaids, to the pairing ceremony. A distinguished female relative leads the bride into the room.
Kang Sauey: A melody accompanying the offering of gifts to the ancestor spirits and asking for their blessings.
“We tie three strings to each wrist of our children. We wish for true happiness and success to this couple, who will always be together like wet grass seeds. We tie your left wrist to make you remember your parents. We tie your right wrist to make you carry on the family lineage and traditions.”