Traditional Khmer Wedding
By: May TittharaVenerable Ly Sovy ( October, 2002 Volume 2 No.10 )

A Khmer man cannot simply take a wife without going through the proper customary procedures. Traditionally, one has to go through four rituals to claim a wife. First, Pithy Chechouv requires the help of a respectable woman, a matchmaker of sort (usually an elderly person) who would go to make the first 'inquiry' (to seek information) from the mother of the girl in question. Provided that she gets an affirmative response, the matchmaker would inquire for the birth details of the girl - usually the time, day, month and year of birth is required. This information, together with the man's birth details, is then handed over to an Achar (a priest) who will see if indeed the couple's birth details are compatible. If so, the man's family would then send a Chhmay (Mediator) to make a formal proposal. This procedure is known as Pithy Sdei Dundoeung. This may sometimes require more than one visit and each time the mediator will call upon the girl's family with some small gifts to establish a good relationship. If all goes well and the girl's family accepts the marriage proposal, then the families would fix a date to perform the Pithy Si Slar Bangchoap Peak.
The Si Slar Bangchoap Peak is a betel chewing ritual performed as testimony to the agreement of marriage. This ceremony has to be well arranged. Friends and relatives of the both parties are invited to witness the occasion and it is customary for the groom's side to bring fruits and other forms of gifts in pairs to the bride's house. Normally by this time, the groom's family would have already established and agreed with the bride's family on the amount of dowry necessary and bring it along to the ceremony at the bride's house. Here the parents from both sides would ceremoniously chew and exchange betel leaves to seal their agreement to the marriage. During the ritual, the parents ask the groom to thank and serve the mediator and all the people who are there assist. The families then would decide on an auspicious date for the wedding ceremony.

Wedding Ceremony-Day 1

The morning session:

A mediator formally requests a meeting with the parents to ask for their authorization to build the wedding hall -- known officially as "the hall of the areca flower". He asks for a meadow for buffaloes to graze; a forest to provide firewood and a pond to draw water from. Everything can be done only with the authorization of the parents.

Afternoon session:

The mediator and an Achar (a priest) ask for a meeting with the parents to request permission to prepare the rituals for entering the wedding hall including the beating of the gong and of the big drum to play music; dance and sing according to tradition. When the parents agree, they mention a chosen time and obey accordingly. Then they ask for permission to discuss the programs for the second and third day.

Wedding Ceremony-Day 2

Morning session:

At 5.00a.m the Achar prepares a ritual to pray to the "Krong Pealie", the Deity who takes care of the earth, to seek recognition for the groom to be accepted as a newcomer (family member) and offers best wishes and good luck.
At 7.00a.m A woman mediator goes and meets the parents to customarily perform one more ritual of a formal marriage proposal; Two trust worthy ladies are assigned to look at the presents (dowry, etc..) to see if they are according to the parent's wishes and they are given priority to decide on the wedding. The two ladies inspect the presents and report back to the parents. If the presents are in order, the ritual of the procession to the bride's house takes place. This ritual is a representation of the determination to formalize the wedding. Then it is the time for offering "thang rorng" (square betel container used in the wedding ceremony) which symbolizes the betel chewing. Following which, they perform the ritual of offering food to the spirits of the ancestors to inform the ancestors of the date of the wedding and to seek their blessings.

Afternoon session:

At about 1 or 2 pm, it is the time for the groom's procession to the areca-palm tree. This is the ritual of areca flower cutting, accompanied by the wedding music. Once the areca flowers are gathered, the groom's procession returns to the wedding hall -- "the hall of the areca flower"

Preparation of hair-cutting ritual.

According to the Venerable Ly Sovy of the Langkar Pagoda in Phnom Penh, "Most parents nowadays allow the groom to do all customary rituals at the bride's house to save time, but they have still to respect the Khmer traditional proceedings." In the ritual of the "hair-cutting", Achar Ly Sovy further explained, "The parents allow the groom to sit side by side with the bride, but do not permit him to sit on her right hand side, but he is allowed to sit on her left side and they should avoid touching each other and the ritual of the hair-cutting signifies the cleaning of the body generally since people in the past sport longer hair and appear untidy. Nowadays, the hair-cutting ritual is only symbolic and not true. Besides only their own family member can perform the symbolic ritual of the haircut, because they afraid someone else might murder the groom." "If the rituals are related to happiness and prosperity from the gods such as offering food to the Krong Pealie, (Deity who takes care of the earth) and the hair-cutting, the parents authorize the salutation to face eastwards, but if it is related to monks, deceased ancestors or a living ancestor such as asking for the monks' blessing and food offering to the ancestor spirits......etc, they must face south," Venerable Ly Sovy explained.

Evening session:

The ritual of "the monks' blessing". This "monks' blessing" ritual is carried out first for the bride and then for the groom. The ritual of the "monks blessing" is when the parents allow the bride to sit in the middle section of the house, facing south, The groom is located at the side, but a little behind the bride's seat, facing in the same direction. The ritual of "food offering to the ancestor sprit", Presently, this ritual only takes place in the western parts of Takeo and Kampot provinces. Most parents still prefer to have these same ancient rituals. But in some other place in former times, parents allowed the bride to sit in the middle section, called Laveng Chan facing the south. When the ritual is finished for the bride, the groom is authorized to do the ritual in the side, called Laveng Chhieng, facing the same direction. At midnight: The parents order the preparation of the ritual of "teeth staining" following after an ancient belief that a righteous woman should have stained teeth. The bride is made to chew Leak, a natural substance that produces a harmless dye that stains her teeth. This ritual is prepared only for the bride in order to grant righteousness and to wish her happiness. From hence, when she talks to people, her smooth voice makes her more charming and everyone likes her and there is no quarrelling with anybody. Also, the intention is to bring their daughter a greater understanding about life and its issues when she will also be living with others. The ritual of "teeth staining" also includes several other different small rituals.

Final Ceremony -Day3

The ritual of the married couple's greeting (Sampeah Phtum). This greeting ritual is a procession of the groom to the bride's house. The couples go to the bride's house to pray to deceased ancestors. They also both show their respect to the living grandparents and receive their blessings for a happy and joyful life. This ritual includes several different small rituals as well. "Three days after the wedding, the new couple must go to the pagoda to receive blessings from the monks," concluded the elderly Achar Sovy.