Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat in Cambodia
the world's largest religious monument built in the 12th century
now a world heritage site
View photos....

Today 1005
This week 12500
Last week 31760
This month 49104
Last month 73988
Total 4486058
Visitors Counter

'Apea Pipea'

Khmer Wedding Ceremonies

 scenery - Seiha Dinas Wedding - Chaul Raung - thumbnail   scenery - Seiha Dinas Wedding - Chum-noun 2 - thumbnail   scenery - Seiha Dinas Wedding - Choun Pkar Slar - thumbnail
      Photo 1                                      Photo 2                                        Photo 3           

  scenery - Seiha Dinas Wedding - Katt Sak - thumbnail   scenery - Seiha Dinas Wedding - PTim Chorng Dey - thumbnail   scenery - Seiha Dinas Wedding - Taong Sbay - thumbnail
Photo 4                                     Photo 5                                      Photo 6 

scenery - Seiha Dinas Wedding - Popill - thumbnail   scenery - Seiha Dinas Wedding - PSom Dan-neik - thumbnail   scenery - Seiha Dinas Wedding - thumbnail  scenery - Seiha Dinas Wedding - Pkar Slar - thumbnail   scenery - Seiha Dina Wedding - Thong Rorng - thumbnail

  Photo 7                     Photo 8                                 Photo 9                      Photo 10         Photo 11

During his reign in the early 13th century, Preah Jeychesda Rama Eyso, a Khmer King, ordered that a structured form of wedding ceremony be defined based on a set of rituals for his subjects to practise. Inspired by legends and stories, the King’s officials formalized the wedding rituals which we see today. 

Origin of Khmer Wedding Ceremonies

A Khmer legend, ‘Preah Thaong & Neang Neak’ is an account of a marriage between ‘Preah Thaong*’ and ‘Neang Neak’. Preah Thaong, an Indian prince, whilst sailing, chanced upon the island of ‘Kauk Thlork’ which was then ruled by ‘Neang Neak’ or 'Preah Neang Soma' – the Naga princess (a sea dragon princess). 

According to legend, Preah Thaong and Neang Neak fought against each other at first. The prince was victorious but also fell in love with the princess. He then asked for her hand in marriage from her father – the Naga King. As a wedding gift to the newlywed couple, the Naga King swallowed a part of the ocean which uncovered land to be used as their new residence. This formed the country of ‘Kampuchea’ known today as Cambodia. 

In order to get married to ‘Neang Neak’, Preah Thaong had to follow her to her father’s subterranean kingdom. He got there by holding on to her tail. This is reflected, in present day Khmer wedding ceremonies, by the groom holding on to a scarf called ‘Sbai’ (symbolising the tail of the Naga Princess) worn by his bride, and following her to the nuptial room. This represents the couple entering the realm of married life.

 Present Day Wedding Ceremonies

In the past, a traditional wedding lasted for three days. However, nowadays, depending on the financial status of the families, Khmer wedding ceremonies generally last between one to one-and-a-half days. The ceremony is an intricately complex affair. Regardless of its duration, a wedding consists of multiple ceremonies involving music and songs. Although there are slight differences due to regional and family customs, it is required that only an expert in wedding ceremonies should conduct the event.

In Cambodia, it’s always the man who asks for the girl’s hand in marriage - at least, I’ve never heard of the opposite. To facilitate your understanding of this article, it is also important to note that, after each ritual, the bride and groom will go to different rooms to refresh themselves, and to change their outfits, if necessary. It is not unusual for a bride to change up to ten outfits - one for each ritual. 

From memory and from my research, although some weddings could be more elaborate, the typical wedding rituals are as follows: 

  1. The whole event is started by a ‘Neak Phlov’ or ‘Go-between’ who acts on behalf of the man’s family to informally sound out the girl’s parents before a formal marriage request is made. This step is called ‘Chae Chov’ and normally takes place many months before the wedding.

  2. Next will be the Kar Sdei Dondung’ or ‘Requesting the girl’s hand in marriage’. This is a formal ritual where both families meet.  The date for this meeting has been set and on the day, along with the 'go-between' and a ‘Naek Mahar’ or a ‘Master of the Ceremony’, all close family members on both sides are present. The decisions regarding the dates for the engagement and the wedding ceremonies are discussed. But the actual dates will be fixed after a consultation with a monk and/or a fortune teller. 

  3. See Slar Pchorp Peak’ or ‘Engagement Ceremony’ – Although the purpose of this ceremony is to confirm what has been agreed and to let everyone including the public know that this man and woman are to be married, for some families, the ceremony is like a mini wedding. One of the rituals at this ceremony, ‘Kon-saeng Slar Dorck’ or  Cloth-wrapped Betel Nut plays a very important part of this event. It symbolises a story of two friends’ promise to each other.

  4. If the wedding is going to last for one and a half days, it starts with Thnai Chaul Raung’ or ‘The arrival of the Groom followed by a blessing session conducted by Buddhist monks (photo 1). This takes place at around 4-5 o’clock in the afternoon on the eve of the wedding day. The groom and family will stay in a marquis set up next to the bride's family house. With the exception of the groom procession, the ritual is more or less the same as the ritual number 5 below.

  5. However, the above step will not happen if the wedding is only a one day event. Instead, it starts with ‘Hae Kaun Kamlorh’ or ‘The Procession of the Groom’, thus, the ritual number 4 and 5 are interchangeable according to length of the wedding. The Groom procession will take place early on the wedding day. From a house not too far away from the bride’s house, the groom, his family, friends and colleagues will carry beautifully wrapped trays of dowry gifts (photo 2) including 'Pkar Slar' or 'Arica Palm Flower', gold, clothes, make-up, flowers, fruits, meats, drinks and desserts together with the two most important symbolic containers called 'Thong Rorng' or 'Container holding Arica Nut & Betel Leaves' (photo 11 & story of Betel Nut Tree and Betel Vine). Led by a Khmer band, they walk in pairs forming a long procession towards to the bride’s house which is the wedding venue. The groom can be easily identified as he walks under a large ornate umbrella.

                 KS_wedding_-_Hae_Kaun_Kamlorh_-_thumbnail         KS_wedding_-_hae_kaun_kamlorh_2_-_thumbnail             KS_wedding_-_paek_kamrorng_pkar_-_thumbnail
                  The Groom holding 'Pkar Slar'                   The Groom Procession         The Bride offers the Groom a garland of flowers 
  6. Traditionally, as soon as the ‘Naek Mahar’ announces the arrival of the groom, the bride is called out to greet him which she does by kneeling down in front of him and washing his feet and drying them with a beautifully embroidered cloth. This ritual is called 'Bon Leang Choeung' or 'Washing Feet Ceremony'. Nowadays, this ritual seems to be replaced by the bride putting a garland of flowers over the groom’s head, and he then does the same to her.

  7. Next, the bride and groom sit down in front of the monks to listen to the religious recitals and to receive a blessing from the monks. This step is called ‘Saut Mun’ or ‘The Monks’ Blessing’ (photo 1)

  8. Although the whole event is conducted seated on the floor, this step is an exception. After the monks’ departure, a table and two chairs are brought in for ‘Katt Sak’ or Hair Cutting Ceremony(photo 4) This is symbolically performed to represent a freshly clean start for the couple who are about to begin their life together as husband and wife. As well as defining the meaning of this symbolic hair-cutting, the song that accompanies this rite goes on to wish the couple happiness, prosperity and longevity.

  9. I particularly like the final ceremony which is called ‘Sampaeh Ptim’ or ‘Pairing Ceremony’ (photo 5) because it is very joyful as everyone present can now join in. The costumes for both the groom and bride are magnificent, and the music and songs are beautiful too. It all seems like watching a musical performance at the theatre.

    a - It begins with the groom sitting down first for the ‘Pkar Slar Bei’ or ‘Arica Palm Flower Ritual (photo 10) which traditionally involves the groom paying respect and gratitude towards the bride’s family. Nowadays, the same ritual seems to be extended to to the groom's family as well. In the photo above, you can see the groom carrying a tray containing 'Pkar Slar' or 'Arica Palm Flower'. The flower will be divided into three parts. These are for giving to the bride's mother, father and brother (or any other of the close family if the bride has no brother) as thank you tokens (photo 3). This has its roots in a legend about 'The Four Friends Studying the Science of Magic'.

    b – Then we would hear a song entitled ‘Roamm  Beurk Vaing Norn’ or ‘Curtain Opening Dance’. This song asks permission from the bride’s parents for her to come out as the groom is waiting for her. After the song is finished, the singer asks questions such as ‘Chey Horng?’ (success?) and ‘Soursdey Horng? (Welcome?)’ of the audience to get positive replies in order to encourage the bride to appear. Upon hearing the sound of a gong three times, a lady appears leading the bride to sit on the left-hand side of the groom. Then a sword is traditionally placed in the hands of both the bride and the groom, but with the hilt (the handle) of the sword in the groom’s hands. Please read (story link) for the illustration of this practice.

    c – Once the bride and the groom are sitting comfortably, the ‘BongVel Porpil’ or ‘Blessing Ceremony’ ritual begins.  Sitting side by side on the floor, leaning forward and supporting their elbows on a cushion, they are waiting to receive the blessings from their parents, families and friends who performe the BongVel Porpil  ritual which involves taking turns holding in their left hand a ‘Porpil’  (photo 7) – a flat metal sheet in the shape of a betel leave with handle, stuck to its top is a burning beeswax candle. They use their right hand to make a semi-circle movement to waft the beautiful scent of the candle towards the couple. Simultaneously, they wish them health, happiness, prosperity and harmony. They then pass the Porpil’ to the person on their left to carry on the blessing.

    d – The next ritual is Chorng Dey’ or ‘Tying the Knot’ (photo 5). This involves married couples and families in the audience coming forward to tie white cotton threads (traditional colour) around the bride and the groom’s hands. While doing so, they offer congratulations, good wishes and advice to the bride and groom. Please note that at some modern weddings, red cotton threads are used instead.

    e- The last step of this ‘Pairing Ceremony’ is ‘Baach Pkar Slar’ or ‘Throwing Arica Palm Flowers’ on the newlywed couple (the same way as Westerners would use confetti or rose petals). This is when the master of the ceremony declares them ‘Husband and Wife’.

  10. Before the wedding is truly completed, one final ritual has to be carried out. - ‘Taong Sbai Kaun Srey’ or ‘Holding on to the Bride’s scarf’  (photo 6) which features the groom holding on the bride’s delicate embroidered body scarf, and following her to their nuptial room to spend their wedding night together, and thus, enter the realm of married life.  For some, however, there is one last ritual - 'Banh chok chek' or (the feeding of bananas) ritual whereby the groom and the bride feed each other with bananas (photo 8) - a symbolic act which we all may guess.

Note: Depending on the family status, a wedding reception could be sumptuous. It is not unusual that guests are served with between 12 to 15 dishes. The number of guests invited could be as many as one thousand or even more. Of course, it goes without saying that the poors will have a much smaller reception with far less elaborate menu. It is also worth mentioning that, unlike Western culture, in Cambodia as in many other Southeast Asian countries, newlywed couples spend their wedding night at home. Honeymoon holiday is not a Khmer tradition though some modern newlywed practise it.