Like the religion, Buddhist Weddings are deeply spiritual affairs where emphasis is more on realization of the vows than strict religious practices. Devoid of any pomp and show, Buddhist weddings are starkly different than weddings in any other cultures in India. There are no strict set of ritualistic guidelines to be followed during a Buddhist weddings from their scriptures as marriage is generally not seen as a path for salvation by Lord Buddha. They are considered to be a personal choice and not a religious duty, like in Hinduism. Buddhist families have full freedom to decide what sort of wedding ceremony they want. Inclusions of Lamas or Buddhist monks are not mandatory to solemnize the wedding although legal registration of the marriage is given importance.
The first step of a Buddhist marriage is the matchmaking process where a suitable life partner is generally chosen by the parents of the bride or groom-to-be. In modern instances, the girl or boy may also choose their own life partners, but generally there are age old customs that are involved. Generally, the proposal is expected to come from the boy’s family. Matching of horoscope is given quite a bit of importance in the process. Once the horoscopes are matched, the wedding preparations progress.
A friend of the groom’s family approaches the chosen girl’s family. He is supposed to carry a bottle of wine and an honorary white scarf known as the ‘Khada’. If the girl’s family acquiesces to the match, they accept these gifts and initiate the process of horoscope matching. This formal visit to the girl’s house with proposal is known as Khachang. After the two families have agreed on the match, they meet each other formally. They compare the boys’s and girl’s Kikas which are similar to Hindu horoscopes. After careful comparison, the families agree upon a date of engagement and the color of the dresses to be worn by the marrying couple on their wedding day. The consultation of the Kikas also decides upon an auspicious day for the bride to depart from her paternal home after marriage.
Nangchang or Chessian
Nangchangor Chessian refers to the formal engagement ceremony in Buddhist culture. The ceremony is generally presided over by a monk or Rinpoche. The maternal uncle of the bride’s parents sits on a raised platform with the Rinpoche. The Rinpoche recites prayer to the Divine Forces wishing the couple a happy life together. A religious drink called Madyan is served to the guests who drink to the couple’s health. The relatives and guests bring in an assortment of gifts like Tsang and other kinds of meat to members of the girl’s family like elder sisters and brothers. The girl’s mother is gifted with chicken and rice as a token of appreciation for nurturing her daughter. The girl’s maternal uncle plays an important role in the ritual as well. The kikas are consulted again and a final marriage date is set. After the engagement, the couple usually lives together in the girl’s house.
Buddhist religion does not dictate specific dress code for bride and groom during their wedding ceremony. It is imperative though that the wedding attire be suitable and complying with the culture.
The bride wears a dress known as Bhaku. It is made of brocade and is similar to a full length sarong. She pairs it with a long-sleeved blouse known as Hanju. It is usually made with Chinese Silk known as Khichen. With this she also wears a special jacket and a scarf. She also wears jewelry with her outfit featuring large precious and semi-precious stones like pearls, corals and turquoise around the neck and forehead. There is no strict color code for the dresses although black is generally avoided as it is considered inauspicious.
The groom also wears a Bhaku, but in case of the groom, it reaches just above the ankles. It is worn with a waistcoat known as Lajha. He is also to wear a cap made of matching brocade and a sash around the waist.
Buddhist weddings are small and private affairs including only the closest friends and relatives of both families. There are two parts of the rituals –religious and social. For the religious ceremony, the bride and the groom visit the temple early in the morning with their families. The groom’s family arrives in a procession carrying trays containing various food items like tea, meat, fruit, wine and traditional cakes. They also bring in the jewelry for the bride to wear.
In most Buddhist cultures in India, the groom’s side has to pay some form of dowry to the bride’s family in exchange for their daughter’s hand. The number of trays will either be six or nine which are considered auspicious numbers in Buddhist cultures. One of the trays carries a pair of candles that the bride and groom lights up together symbolizing the union between the two families. The shrine of Lord Buddha is decorated with flowers, candles and incense sticks. The bride and groom along with their families assemble in front of the shrine and recite a series of hymn – Vandana, Tisarana and Pancasila in Pali language but are currently being recited in English as well. They offer homage with flowers, candles and incense sticks. The bride and groom then recite the traditional vows from Sigilovdda Sutta. They seek blessings of love and happiness from the Almighty. The groom says “I undertake to love and respect her, be considerate, be kind, be faithful and help her with her domestic chores, and please her with gifts.” In response to this the bride says: “I undertake to perform the duties of the household most efficiently, be respectful towards his family and friends, and discharge all responsibilities with much love and fastidiousness all the while taking care of his earning.” The priest places sacred threads on both the bride and groom’s heads and are connected to a container that is sanctified during the ceremony. A sacred red paste is applied on the forehead of both the bride and the groom. After this the guests conclude the marriage ceremony by reciting verses from Mangal Sutta and Jayamangala Gatha while offering their blessings to the newlywed couple. Earlier, monks were not included in the marriage ceremony as they were upholders of celibacy and were part of funeral rituals. But nowadays most couples prefer that a monk or Rinpoche be present at the religious ceremony to officiate the whole process and give his blessings.
The marriage is solemnized away from the temples in a non-religious environment. They are done through specific family-oriented rituals, where friends and family gather, enjoy a feast, exchange gifts.
The couple leaves the girl’s paternal home on a date determined by consulting their kikas. It is generally between the first or tenth day of wedding. The couple may choose to stay separately from either their families. Wedding and post wedding celebrations include music and dance as part of their traditions. In many cultures of the north east, folk songs and dance are inseparable part of the celebrations. These include Sangini and Maruni from Nepal, Tamang Selo in Sikkim, Zo-mal-lok Bhutia from Bhutan and Singhi Cham, Yak Cham and Chabrung in Meghalaya and Sikkim. Some are performed solely by the men while some are performed by men and women together.