So much has been written on western Christian marriages, that I felt some insights into other wedding practices might be a refreshing change. There is no official figure for the number of Buddhists in the world today but estimates range from 300 to 500 million. Official counts are impossible because of China’s repression of religion in general. Buddhism is, by any measure, at least the 6th largest religion on the planet.
Buddhism regards marriage as a secular matter. Buddhism does not view marriage as a sacrament or religious duty. As a result, Buddhist monks do not solemnize the marriage or officiate the ceremony. Instead, their role is to perform religious services that bless the couple.
As in most cultures and religions, things begin with the groom asking for the bride’s hand in marriage. This may be done by the boy himself or through the parents in an “arranged” marriage. Either way, when the boy has found his intended, he sends a family friend to the girl’s home. The friend carries a bottle of wine or other alcoholic beverage and a white silk scarf called a khada. The friend’s purpose is to determine if the girl’s family has any interest in the proposal. This traditional ritual is called Khachang. If the girl’s family is interested in the proposal, a meeting between the two families is arranged at which they compare kikas. Kikas are somewhat like horoscopes and are used to determine the date of the engagement, the color of the bride and groom’s costumes and other important dates and details. Tradition also dictates that the groom present his bride with a gift. It could be land, money or anything of value.
Next is the formal engagement known as Nangchang. A lama or rimpoche (monk) oversees the Nangchang. Kikas are again consulted to determine the most propitious date for the wedding. The bride and groom will stay together in either of their homes until the wedding day. Maternal uncles on both sides play important roles in ongoing negotiations. Guests give gifts of rice and chicken to the bride’s mother as thanks for raising the girl. Meats and beverages are given to the bride’s unmarried elder siblings and to her mother.
When the date for the marriage ceremony arrives, the bride, groom, family and friends gather at the pre-appointed place where a shrine of the Lord Buddha has been erected. In front of the shrine, decorated with flowers and festooned with candles. All attendees recite the Tisarana, Pancasila and the Vandana. The couple is then directed to light the candles and incense. The couple recites the vows prescribed in the Sigilovdda Sutta (Digha Nikilya):
"Towards my wife I undertake to love and respect her, be kind and considerate, be faithful, delegate domestic management, and provide gifts to please her."
"Towards my husband I undertake to perform my household duties efficiently, be hospitable to my in-laws and friends of my husband, be faithful, protect and invest our earnings, discharge my responsibilities lovingly and conscientiously."
At the conclusion of the vows, the parents and/or the assembly will recite the Mangala Sutta and Jayamangala Gatha to offer their blessings for the couple.
Ronald Fisackerly is a writer for Skylighter which sells fire lantern , wedding sparklers and punk sticks as well as a variety of other items.
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