Amnat Pooksrisuk
Instructor, Royal Thai Army War College

Wedding ceremonies in Thailand are generally divided into two parts: a Buddhist component, which includes reciting prayers and offering food and other gifts to monks and images of the Buddha, and a non-Buddhist component, which is rooted in folk traditions and centers on the couple’s families.

The folk traditions include the sin sod, which is a dowry system. Traditionally, the groom is expected to pay a sum of money to the family to compensate them and to demonstrate that he is financially capable of taking care of their daughter. Sometimes, this sum is purely symbolic and will be returned to the bride and groom after the wedding has taken place. The groom is also culturally required to give the bride’s parents khong mun, a gift of gold jewelry. It is typically given after the wedding is announced but before the wedding ceremony.

Historically, a couple would seek a blessing from their local temple before marrying and might consult a monk for astrological advice in setting an auspicious date for the wedding. In the general course of marriages, the non-Buddhist portions of the wedding would take place away from the temple and on a separate day.

In modern times, these prohibitions have been significantly relaxed. It is not uncommon for the Buddhist and non-Buddhist events, or even for the wedding itself, to take place within the temple. However, a division is still commonly observed between the religious and secular portions of a wedding service. The separation may be as simple as the monks presenting the Buddhist ceremony and then departing for lunch once their role is complete.

During the Buddhist wedding component, the couple first bow before the image of the Buddha. They then recite basic prayers or chants and light incense and candles. The couple’s parents may then be called upon to “connect” the couple, by placing twin loops of string or thread upon the heads of the bride and groom. This action symbolically links the couple together. The couple may then make offerings of food, flowers, and medicine to the monks present. Cash gifts may also be presented to the temple at this time.

The monks may then unwind a small length of thread that is held between the hands of the assembled monks. They recite Pali scriptures to bless the new couple. The string terminates with the lead monk, who may connect it to a container of water that will be sanctified for the ceremony. Merit is said to travel through the string and to the water. The blessed water may be mixed with wax drippings from a candle lit before a Buddha image and with other unguents and herbs to create a paste that is then applied to the foreheads of the bride and groom to create a small dot, similar to the marking made with red ochre on Hindu devotees. The bride’s mark is created with the butt end of the candle rather than the monk’s thumb, in keeping with the Vinaya prohibition against touching women. The highest-ranking monk present may elect to say a few words to the couple to offer advice or encouragement. The couple may then make food offerings to the monks, at which point the Buddhist portion of the ceremony is concluded.