VERY race has its own culture and traditions. Likewise, Myanmar’s many different ethnic races – officially 135 in all – have theirs when a man and woman want to become husband and wife.
The main objective of a wedding ceremony here is to formally announce they are to become one but it requires a lot of effort to get there, especially if tradition is observed. The family too must play a part in it.
According to tradition, there are five duties that Myanmar parents have to perform for their children: prohibit them from doing evil things; advise them to do good deeds; educate them; after that, support them with capital investment; and arrange a marriage for them. Therefore, as one of the five parental duties, Myanmar parents must organise a wedding for their children when they are old enough to marry, for which there are rules to observe.
According to Section 211 of the Fourth Volume of Manusara code of law, “parents can arrange a marriage for their children who are already 16 years old”. Furthermore, the Sixth Volume of Manu code of law mentions, “Women under 20 are not allowed to marry on their own will, but their marriage has to be formally arranged by their parents or guardian.”
In addition, Section 124 of the Sixth Volume of Manu code of law says, “parents can arrange marriage for their daughters when they reach the age of 16, and if a suitable bridegroom is available, parents have the right to arrange marriage for their daughters till they attain the age of 20”. This means that once a daughter is 20, she is free to choose her own husband.
Before a wedding ceremony, families in Myanmar make it a point not to miss one custom: both the bride-to-be and bridegroomto-be consult an astrologer for an auspicious day and time to be married. They also check whether they are compatible as life-long partners based on their birthdays. It’s a common belief that if the partnership is not well matched, the marriage will not survive, or that there won’t be any progress or happiness.
According to tradition, those born on Sunday and Friday are compatible; likewise, Tuesday and Thursday, Saturday and Wednesday. Sunday and Wednesday evening are also well-suited. It’s believed their marriage will last and they will have a long life together.
But those born on Saturday and Thursday do not make good partners. Likewise, Friday and Monday, Sunday and Wednesday, and Wednesday evening and Tuesday are not compatible. Their marriages will not last and they will have short lives, it is believed.
However, it’s not absolute and there’s no need to panic if would-be partners fall into those categories. To get past that, the astrologer can perform yadaya (a ritual to avert misfortune) and the mismatched couple can finally become life partners.
There are many different traditional wedding rites in Myanmar, some so simple, some very elaborate, as outlined by 10 examples that follow:
1. Hanging the bridegroom’s longyi on the clothesline
The bridegroom’s parents and relatives, along with young people from the community, visit the home of the bride with wedding presents, pots to cook rice and curries, clothes, bedding, pillows and livestock cattle. If the bridegroom’s family is rich, wedding presents for the new couple would include property and farmland ownership documents.
These presents are handed to the bride’s parents. During the ceremony, the bride remains in her room out of shyness and, as is custom, the bridegroom stays back in his home. For this ceremony, the bridegroom’s entourage has to bring a new longyi. The bride’s side has to arrange a separate room for the new couple at their home. Once the bridegroom’s longyi is placed on the clothesline in that room, the bridegroom and bride become husband and wife. 2. Having meals from the same dish A wedding reception is held by inviting friends and neighbours in the community. Then the bride and bridegroom are made to have meals, such as sticky rice, pickled tea leaves or other snacks from the same dish together. They then are proclaimed husband and wife. 3. Exchanging of rings During the ceremony, the bride and bridegroom exchange rings to formally get married.
When the bridegroom arrives at the house of the bride, her parents and relatives make him have a bath to cleanse himself and then help him change into new clothes. After that the couple becomes husband and wife.
5. Placing the bridegroom’s palm upon the bride’s
The most common marriage rite in Myanmar is to have the bridegroom’s right palm placed upon the bride’s right palm. The ceremony is held at the home of the bride.
While distributing invitation cards for the wedding ceremony, cheroots or pickled tea leaves are also given as gifts. On the wedding day, it’s a tradition for guests to give gifts to the newlyweds.
The bridegroom, his parents and relatives arrive after all the guests have done so. The bridegroom sits at the seat assigned for him. Then, the bride and her relatives arrive, and she is made to sit to the left of the bridegroom.
First, the couple pays obeisance to the Five Infinite Venerables -- the Buddha, the Dhamma (Teachings of the Buddha), the Sangha (community of monks, nuns, novices following Buddha’s Teachings), parents and teachers, and other elders. Then, the person officiating the ceremony places the right hands of the couple one on the other to solemnise the marriage.
At the same time, garlands are hung around the couple’s necks, rings are exchanged, water sprinkled on their heads, and a length of cloth is used to bind their hands, which are then dipped into a water bowl.
Lastly, parents from either side, or an elderly person representing the parents, give words of advice to the couple. Then the ceremony comes to a close with a loud chant: “May the wedding ceremony be successful.”
6. Putting golden rings of string around the necks of the bride and groom
During the ceremony, rings of gold or gold alloy, about 5 feet in total, are hung around the neck of the bride and groom. 7. Being swathed in a lengthy veil In a simple ceremony, the couple is swathed in a lengthy veil, shawl or cloth.
8. Hanging of garlands around the neck of the couple
The placing of garlands around the necks of the bride and the groom signifies that the marriage has been solemnised. 9. Dipping hands in a silver bowl of water The ceremony involves dipping the right hands of the bride and the groom in a silver bowl 10. Sprinkling drops of clear perfumed water The key part of the ceremony involves the sprinkling of clear perfumed water on the heads of the bride and the groom.
Those are but a few examples. There are many more marriage rites which are still observed, especially by the many ethnic groups, which are very interesting. Reference: Marriage rites of different ethnic races in Myanmar (Tekkatho Shin Thiri), Sabai Oo publishing (1991)
Translation by Thiri Min Htun About the cover photo The cover photo was taken 70 years ago in Pathein township, Ayeyarwady Region. In a marriage pre-arranged by parents from both sides, not a very unusual matter in those days, the wedding couple got married in a ceremony held at one of the township’s most famous cinema halls.
Reminiscing about this milestone in her life, the bride recounted that the wedding was attended by the wealthy and the intellects at that time and that it was quite grand. She added that, unlike today where people would give money as a wedding gift, guests brought the newlyweds many sets of silver bowls and Pathein umbrellas (famous throughout the country and abroad) as gifts.
Nearing her 90s, she is surrounded by the couple’s five children in Yangon, after her husband passed away four years ago at the age of 96. Both of them had witnessed the country’s independence, the assassination of Bogyoke Aung San, and the many ups and downs in the country during their long married life.