It is one of the most universal rituals known to mankind but the way in which it is celebrated in various parts of the world varies with cultural traditions: wedding traditions. We wondered how people in Asia tie the knot and give you a little more insight into the special wedding customs of four different countries. If you’re not yet married it might even offer you some small inspiration for that special day when you decide to say yes, I do to your future husband or wife.
The Chinese have many special customs in each and every aspect of life so it comes as no surprise that wedding traditions are no exception. The Chinese are superstitious when it comes to the actual wedding date. Couples often consult a fortune teller or astrologer to decide which date would be most favourable for good luck and fortune. For centuries brides would wear a Qipao, a bright red floor length silk dress. Red is considered a very lucky colour in China and is the featured colour in many other celebration ceremonies as well. The bride will often change her dress multiple times during her wedding day to underscore her family’s wealth.
On the morning of the wedding the groom and his entourage come to the door of the bride which is barricaded by her bridesmaids. They need to be bribed with something that would make his entrance worthy after which he is allowed to have tea with his soon to be mother and father in law. Music plays a big part in Chinese weddings and during more elaborate weddings one can expect to witness a lion dance. Performers dance to the powerful music of drums and gongs with the intention of scaring off evil spirits.
In India it is no different when it comes to rituals and special ceremonies during this most important of days. In the run up to the actual wedding a special engagement ceremony takes place where bride and groom to be exchange rings and families give each other gifts and sweets. Another pre wedding ceremony is called Mandap Muhurat. Both bride and groom attend separate parties where relatives will apply turmeric,a yellow spice in powder form, to their skin to make it soft. Prior to the wedding a bride will undergo the bridal Mehendi at her own home. This is a ceremony where she will receive elaborate henna paintings on her hands, wrists, palm, arms, legs and feet. These ornate decorations are applied by her female friends. As well as in China red is the lucky colour in India. The traditional sari is worn in red or red and white finished with gold detailing.
The most important part of the wedding is called Saptapadi. This is the exchanging of the vows which takes place in the presence of a sacred fire. Bride and groom will circle this fire three times. After the first time, which takes 7 steps apparently, they exchange the vows. After the third and last turn the groom presents the bride with a silver ring as a token of his love for her. In the Var Mala ceremony they will exchange flower garlands as symbols of their mutual love and to show that the bride has accepted the groom as her husband.
On Java weddings can last several days and the ceremonies differ from caste to caste and family to family. But one important arrangement is that in most cases the mutual parents of the bride and groom to be, have to consent to the wish of marriage. For the marriage is a long lasting bond that brings these two families together and it is not a decision to be taken lightly. If the wedding is big there will be one specially person appointed to act as Paés Agung (king’s make-up), a smaller one will require a Paés Kesatrian (knight’s make-up) The Paés are responsible for the wedding ceremonies that are to be followed, such as Siraman (bathing ceremony), Midodareni (ceremony on the eve before the wedding), Ijab (religious marriage consecration) and other Javanese ceremonies following the wedding celebration. The Paés will also organise the wedding reception.
Siraman means to take a bath. Symbolically it means to become clean, both in body and soul. The Siraman ceremony is usually organised in the afternoon on the day before the wedding. Siraman is conducted in the homes of respective parents and takes place in either the bathroom or another place especially designed for this purpose, most often the garden. The number of people involved in the actual bathing ritual is important too. They always include the parents and some elderly and distinguished women of good moral behaviour. The number of people helping is limited to seven. Special accessories are brought for example spring water and flowers in a copper bowlfor washing. Some colourful powders in five different coulours that function as a soap and a traditional shampoo and conditioner amongst others. The washing ritual is started while the bride or groom is seated in a praying position with hand s in front of the chest. Water is poured on the hands and the mouth is to be rinsed three times. Follwing this water will be poured on the head face neck ears hand and feet each three times. The last person to perform this bath is a special person who is assigned to was the hair with special shampoo and the powders for cleansing. At the last act an earthen flask is broken on the floor while the Pameas says Wis Pecah Pamore. Something that translates like you are handsome, beautiful now and ready to get married. Watch the video for an impression of a real life Siraman.
In Japan brides traditionally wear shirokumus, which used to be colourful formal Japanese style gowns. But today brides often wear the shiro in white as a symbol of purity and are painted white from head to toe to declare their purity. After the ceremony she changes into an Irouchiakake; a red, white, gold or silver embroidered kimono which will also be replaced by a western style dress later.
The most important wedding tradition in Japan is the sharing of sake which is called san-san-kudo. This three by three exchange is rich with meaning. In this ceremony both the parents and the groom and bride will participate. The groom will take three sips of rice wine (sake) from three different cups. Then the bride will do the same. After this exchange they offer it to their families as a symbol of this new bond. The first 3 represent three couples, the bride and groom, and their parents. The second 3 represent three human flaws: hatred, passion, and ignorance. Ku or 9 is considered a lucky number in Japanese culture. And do means deliverance from the three flaws.
Another highlight of this ceremony is a rosary with 21 beads that represent the couple, their families and the Buddha all joined on one string to symbolize the union of the families. Another part of the ceremony involves honoring the parents with offers of flowers, a toast, and a letter expressing their love and gratitude. The crane is a symbol of longevity and prosperity and that is why 1,001 gold origami cranes are folded to bring luck, good fortune, longevity, fidelity, and peace to the marriage.
Lobster is often served as the main dish at weddings for the Japanese, because of its bright red colour, once again the colour of luck. Clams will also be served, whoe this time as a declaration to the couple’s unity. And although food is served in abundance it will never be served in courses of four. Four, or Shi in Japanese, is considered an unlucky number because Shi sounds like the Japanese word for ‘death.’
Attending a Japanese wedding but you don’t know what to give the newlyweds? Money is the magic word. It is given in Shugi-Bukuro especially decorated envelopes.