Weddings in Buddhist areas have traditionally been secular affairs not endorsed the Buddhist clergy. But in some places people feel that their marriage needs a religious endorsement. In many cases this involves monks and nuns chanting sutras afer the civil ceremony was completed.

During a Buddhist wedding, the couple promises to love, respect and be faithful to one another. Often the groom promises to provide gifts and take care of his wife while the bride promises to be hospitable to the family and friends of the groom. When the ceremony is presided over by a monk the couple promises do uphold the teachings of the Buddha. The ceremonies are often held in gardens because they are regarded as pure and uncorrupted by the sufferings of humans.

Traditional Chinese Weddings

In the old days, traditional Chinese weddings were performed at ancestral shrines. In upper class families the groom and bride wore red and green silk garments and were transported to the shrine in wedding sedans decorated with birds and flowers. The red worn by the bride and groom symbolized good fortune. If they had them, families exchanged genealogical records.

In a traditional wedding cermony today, the bride often has a veil over her head and wears a red gown and jewelry given to here by her parents. She carries a red umbrella. When opened, it is said, the umbrella delivers her descendants to the home of the groom.

Sometimes a special tea ceremony is conducted in which the couple is formally introduced as husband and wife to their families and ancestors. The bride serves tea to each guest and is a given a red envelope containing money in return. The new husband offers tea (sometimes dragon's eye fruit tea) and bows to each parent. While their parents sip their tea they give red envelopes with money or jewelry to the husband.

Japanese Wedding Ceremony

A Japanese wedding is usually held at Shinto shrine, a Shinto shrine within a hotel or a wedding hall. Many hotels and wedding halls also have Christian chapels, where ceremonies are held. According to a survey by recruit Co, 70 percent of the wedding ceremonies in Japan were “western-style”; 15 percent were held at public venues; and only 12 percent were Shinto ceremonies, down from 80 percent in the 1960s.

Shinto weddings ceremonies usually last around 20 to 30 minutes. The couple is blessing by a Shinto priest, they sip some sake and a say few words. There is no best men and no giving the bride away. Sometimes rings are exchanged. After the ceremony the families of the bride's and groom are formally introduced to each other. The wedding ceremony is usually only attended by close family members. Most of the guests for the wedding don't even show up for the ceremony. They only go to the wedding party afterwards.

An hour so before the wedding ceremony the guests of the groom and the guests of the bride are taken into separate rooms at the Shinto shrine are coached about what they will do in the wedding ceremony. Sometimes there is a procession of sorts. In the old days gifts were taken to the grooms house in a wagon. These days sometimes they are loaded in a back of a truck. The wedding party then enters the shrine to the sound of flute and drum music. The bride and groom sit down in front a small table near the altar. The groom’s party stands near the groom's parents next to the groom. The bride's party stands near the bride's parents next to the bride. Often there are cameras mounted on the ceiling that record the ceremony.

The formal ceremony began when all people present bow towards the alter. The priest gives a short speech and waves a haraigushi (a branch of a sacred tree with white linen or paper streamers attached) as a symbol of purification. The priests then chants an invocation, adressing several deities, and proclaims the bride and groom united.

The main focus of the ceremony is ritual drinking of sake. A miko (female assistant of the priest) brings some sake to the bride and groom, which is poured into small cups. The grooms drinks first, finishing the sake in three sips. The bride then does the same. After this, sake is served to the groom's parents and the bride's parents. The cups of the fathers are exchanged. Everybody shares their sake and drinks and proclaim Omedeto gozimasu ("congratulations").

At a cue from the miko the groom reads the wedding vow: "We have now become united as husband and wife in this shrine. We respectfully pledge to make our hearts as one, give mutual help and support, faithfully execute our marital duties and responsibilities, and spend all the days of our lives together with unchanging trust and eternal affection."

The miko then reads the wedding date and the name of the bride and groom. The couple then makes a traditional offering of tamagushi (small branches of the sacred sakaki tree) to the kami (nature spirits) of the shrine. Everyone then bows twice, claps their hands two times, then bows again.

Some coupes exchange rings. Some don’t. Those that do sit at the alter and given boxes with the rings by the mikos. The groom takes the box first, opens it and places the ring on the bride’s finger. The bride then follows and does the same with the groom’s ring. After this everyone applauds. Sometimes some gifts are presented. The priest then recites an invocation and announces the successful completion of the ceremony.

Thai Wedding

There are two main kinds of weddings: The first kind is held in the morning and presided over by a monk. The couple receives a blessing from the monks and wear two circular crowns that are joined by a white yarn called a “mongkol”, symbolizing the union between the bride and groom. More white chords, called “sai sin”, are arranged in a circle, the holy area where the wedding is performed.

At a time that has been selected by an astrologer, the couple’s crowns are joined by the “mongkol” by a senior relative. The couple kneels inside the sacred area while a senior monk sprinkles holy water on the the couple’s forehead with a sprig of Chinese gooseberry. Later in the day, a monk pours purified water in the joined hands of the couple with the water dripping on to a bowl filled with flowers. Guests also pour holy water on the couple’s hands. There are no vows or promises. At a reception later on gifts are given from the groom’s family to the bride’s family.

The second of wedding is usually associated with urban areas and held in the afternoon at a wedding hall with the bride and groom dressed in Western-style dress made from Thai silk. The ceremony begins with guests entering the hall, with the eldest entering first, and each member being given a conch shell filled with holy water.

During the ceremony the bride and groom bow towards the floor with their hands folded and wear wreaths joined together by a thin thread. Each guest pours holy water from their conch shells on the couple’s hands, blesses them and offers their best wishes. In return, the bride and groom make a traditional Thai gesture of thanks. The couple parents are given a garland, bouquet or perfumed handkerchief. The guest sign a wedding book.

Hindu Weddings

Weddings in India are often highly complex, and involve huge expenditures and the feeding of a lot of people. A typical wedding, and all that goes with it, lasts for three to seven days, with a 100 or more people, mostly relatives, attending. Customs vary according to region, caste, ethnic group, religion and income levels of the families involved.

Marriage has traditionally been viewed as an initiation with betrothal, virginity, acceptance and the seven steps being the essential elements of a wedding. During the wedding the couple spends much of its time seated inside a small pavilion . The bride's father formally give the bride to the groom.

Weddings have traditionally taken place at a home or in a tent filled with decorations and flowers. If the bride’s family is wealthy it might be held in a courtyard of the bride’s house. If the family doesn’t have so much money it be held in a blocked off street or square. The groom and his relatives and friends traditionally traveled to the bride's house, neighborhood of village for the wedding.

Hindu Wedding Ceremony

A traditional Hindu wedding and ceremony is presided over by a Brahmin priest. The bride is shaded by a tent-like saffron canopy decorated with flowers and surrounded by wedding guests. The formal ceremony often begins with the couple standing on a platform and the curtain between them is removed and sandalwood chips are placed around their necks.

The ceremony is held before a sacred fire lit inside a metal vessel. The sacred fire is a symbol of purification and a representation of Agni, the fire god. It burns underneath the saffron canopy and is made with specific kinds of wood, often mango wood, and is kindled by rubbing sticks together in a proscribed fashion. Before the fire the priest recites sacred Sanskrit texts to drive off darkness while the couple throws offerings of puffed rice and clarified butter. In Aryan times the fire was never allowed to go out and into it daily offering were made to the gods.

The central ritual of a Hindu wedding is the sapta-pad, the seven steps taken by the couple together around the sacred fire. The rituals begins when the priest starts chanting and the bride and groom approach each other in an area purified with piles of rice. Holding right hands-the bride has to reach across her body to grab the groom’s right hand — the couple take seven steps together around the holy fire (or more precisely circle the fire seven times), place garlands of rose pedals and marigolds around each other’s neck and daub sandalwood paste on each other’s foreheads. These acts are the equivalent of exchanging rings in a Christian wedding ceremony. The seven steps symbolize eternal friendship and the couple’s journey through life together.

After the steps are taken around the fire the marriage is regarded as sacrosanct and irrevocable because formal vows have been take in front of the fire god. Each trip around the fire represents a specific blessing: 1) food; 2) strength; 3) wealth; 4) happiness; 5) children; 6) cattle; and 7) devotion. Sometimes the couple's rights hands are bound together or the bride’s sari is tied the upper part of his clothes during the formal ceremony. Sometimes the bride’s head is covered with veil until the groom pulls it away.

Hindu Wedding Vows and Rituals

While standing the groom accepts the bride as a expression of his good fortune and promises to always consult her and include her in their Hindu life together. The mantras that are said while the couple circles the fire includes ones that addresses the responsibilities of love, procreation, mutual respect, fidelity and these are expected to be respected as a long as the couple lives.

As the couple circles the sacred the couple they make seven promises, one for each “step”: 1) to earn enough to care for their families; 2) to live a healthy life; 3) to be concerned with their spouse’s welfare; 4) to live together as friends and bring pleasure and happiness to one another in a religion-oriented life; 5) to eat and drink together and be with each other at special occasions; 6) to have children and love and take care of them; and 7) to adapt to other person at any given time or place. Then the bridegroom chants mantras that includes: “I am the words and you are the melody, I am the melody and you are he words.”

At the wedding ceremony the father of the bride often hands out red-dyed rice and betel plants as he gives away his daughter and promises to pay all the marriage expenses. The groom’s father takes the bride’s hand and places it in the groom’s hand and then pours priest-blessed water over them. Sometimes gold tinted rice and turmeric are blessed by a priest and repeatedly poured over the bride and groom as a symbol of happiness and prosperity. A tali, or jewel, is placed around the brides neck. Blessings are given. Offerings are made of uncooked rice, barley and sesame. Guests are often given sandalwood paste perfumes and flowers.

Because virginity is regarded as a gift to the groom, the bride’s father says: “I give you, for your son, my beautiful virgin daughter.” In response the groom’s father formally accepts the bride into his family.

After the bride applies sandalwood paste to the groom’s forehead, the groom makes a round red mark, a tikka, on forehead of the bride to indicate that she is now a married woman. When the groom places a garland around her neck he asks the bride to accompany him when he does his Hindu duties. The bride and groom also don wedding necklaces, with a gold or silver chain and black beads and gold semicircles given to them by both families that symbolizes the union of the two families.

Muslim Wedding

Muslim weddings are often held before Ramadan. They can last for four to seven days and usually feature traditional music and often dancing. Guests are expected to dress in their finest clothes. Not all Muslim cultures have wedding celebrations because once a marriage contract is signed, the couple is regarded as married.

When there is a wedding ceremony it is generally not performed in a mosque because most Islamic marriages are effected by a civil contract and men and women are supposed to be separated in a mosque. Instead the ceremony and celebration afterwards are usually is held in a wedding salon, the house of the groom or the bride or one of their relatives or in the streets or a courtyard. The guests are usually neighbors and extended family members. Foreigners are often invited.

Preparations are made for the wedding festivities after consent for the marriage is obtained from the father. Often the festivities take place in three stages. First there is the bridal shower, where friends of the bride get together to dress the bride and put colored dyes on each other. Sometimes there is a simultaneous party for the groom at another place. Next is the official marriage ceremony held at the bride's house, with a reading from the Koran. The last is a reception in honor of the new couple at the groom's residence.

Many of the activities that surround a wedding are exclusively for women: singing ribald songs, cooking and preparing dishes, apply henna patterns to various parts of the body. A day or so before the official wedding ceremony there is a woman-only pre-marriage ceremony called lailat al henna , in which the hands and feet of bride and sometimes her guests are decorated with elaborate henna designs. The reddish-colored designs wear off after a couple of weeks.

Muslim Wedding Ceremony

The marriage ceremony has traditionally been done in private, overseen by a mullah and attended only by two Muslim witnesses or close family members. Before the ceremony the groom formally informs the father of the bride of his intention to marry his daughter and asks for permission. A mullah is learned Muslim man trained in Muslim law.

The formal betrothal, the khitbah , starts with prayers praising Allah and asking for His forgiveness and protection and including the words: “God is God and Mohammed is His messenger.” The bride and groom often face each other with their hands clasped, sometimes with a white cloth held over their head which signifies their purity and chastity. As the couple stand together a friend or relative of the groom makes a statement of the groom’s intent which is acknowledged and approved by a representative from the bride’s family.

The mullah asks the groom, “Have you chosen this young woman for your wife?” The groom responds, “I have. “You have heard?” the mullahs asks the witnesses. “We have heard,” they reply. The process is repeated for the bride. She is expected to answer in a soft, demure voice. She also says something like: “I offer you myself in marriage in accordance with the instructions of the Holy Koran and the Holy Prophet, peace and blessing be upon Him.”

Traditionally, when the witnesses are asked if they have heard they say no and the bride must say “I have” very loudly. The couple pledges their honesty, sincerity, obedience and faith. The mullah then blesses the couple and prayers are recited as the father of the bride formally accepts the groom as his son-in-law.

Muslim Wedding Party

In many places there is wedding party or reception after the ceremony. Customs vary quite a bit from culture to culture. After the ceremony the bride is often presented to the public. Sometimes she has to sit still for hours while groups of people admire her beautiful clothes and elaborate henna patterns on her feet and hands. Sometimes there is a procession of guests bearing presents for the bride, which are then put on display at the reception. Sometimes when they arrive candy and rice is thrown on the bride.

Sometimes the bride wears a Western-style wedding dress. Most often she wears a traditional costume of her ethnic group or tribe. The groom can wear a Western suit or a traditional costume Sometimes rings are exchanged at the ceremony. Sometimes jewelry and money is tacked onto the clothes of the bride and groom. At some point during the celebration the groom may ride through the streets on a horse.

There is generally a big feast with lots of food that may last for a day or more. The featured dish at a Bedouin wedding is often a cooked camel, stuffed with a whole roasted sheep, which in turn is stuffed with a chicken stuffed with fish filled with eggs.

A band is usually on hand that begins by singing Islamic poetry and playing favorite Egyptian and Indian show tunes. After the bands gets warmed up and the party gets going they play dance music as well as audience participation songs and deliver clever lyric directed at the bride and groom and other people in the crowd.

The wedding party often takes place without the married couple present. They are sequestered in special quarters and share a meal with special foods. Afterwards the couple are alone and expected to consummate the marriage. The next morning two old women are given the duty of determining if the “boy has become a king,” or in other words find out of the marriage has been consummated. If the answer is “yes” the bride is no longer regarded as a “servant” (sometimes translated as “slave”) of her father but is now a “servant” of her husband.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated November 2012

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