May 2017


The Wedding Season Begins
May 2017




The Buddhist poruwa ceremony
© Rasika Surasena

The months of May, June and July signify the diverse and exotic wedding season in Sri Lanka; not particularly due to climate, but due to the astrologically auspicious time for marriage, which falls within this timeframe.


Words: Richard Boyle


Being a multicultural society, the Sri Lankan wedding rituals represent the Island's four major religions, including the variations in customs within each. The Buddhist ceremony is unique and is steeped in tradition. Take the Hindu worship of diverse deities such as Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, and the indigenous nature of Malay and Moor Muslim ceremonies, and the varied approach of the Christian denominations. However, though such difference in weddings exists, there are certain principal customs habitually observed.


Buddhist Poruwa Ceremony
Practiced in Sri Lanka prior to the introduction of Buddhism, the poruwa ceremony remains as the traditional Sinhalese wedding. The poruwa is a lavishly decorated wooden platform of sundry design, and the ceremony includes rituals that are performed at an auspicious time deemed by an astrologer.


After arriving at the wedding location - the bride that is dressed in a Kandyan sari and the groom in a voluminous thum-pottiya, perhaps a conventional suit - they are guided to the poruwa by Kandyan dancers and drummers. Then, having ascended the platform, right foot first, they both greet each other with palms clasped together. The ceremony officiant - known as the ashtaka, then presents betel leaves to the couple for future protection.


These leaves are integral to another ritual once the bride's father gives away his daughter by placing her hand on the groom's. A tray with seven sheaves, each containing a coin, is presented first to the bride, who drops them on the poruwa, an action repeated by the groom. Next, the groom gifts a gold necklace to his bride and they exchange rings.


To represent their unity, the little fingers of the bride's right hand and the groom's left hand are tied with a golden thread, after which pirith pan, "holy water", is poured over them. Girls then bless the marriage with the Buddhist protection chant, Jayamangala Gatha.

Sri Lanka’s wedding rituals represent the Island’s four major religions, including the variations in customs within each.


As the newly-married couple descends the poruwa, a coconut is broken to destroy evil spirits. Husband and wife sign the marriage register, light a brass oil lamp for a favourable future, and cut the wedding cake.


Hindu Vivaah Sanskar Ceremony

A few weeks before the wedding, in an associated ceremony, ponn urukku, the groom presents a gold coin to the family goldsmith to be melted down to fashion a thali - or a bridal pendant with a deep design, which must be continuously worn after the marriage.


The main ceremony, which is the vivaah sanskar, just as the poruwa, is dictated by auspicious times, and it commences with the arrival of the groom at the bride's family house. Earlier, an aarathi, or "complete love" (of the deities), a ritual to ward off the evil eye, was held so that the groom can now be welcomed, then ushered to the bridal seat with its colourful floral ornamentation.

Vivaah sanskar, just as the poruwa, is dictated by auspicious times, and it commences with the arrival of the groom at the bride’s family house.


Then enters the Hindu Brahmin solemnising the wedding ceremony. He recites a holy prayer prior to the appearance of the bride in a coloured sari. She is given away by her parents in the ritual - kannika dhanam, and the recently-created thali is presented to the bride. The groom ties it round her neck, upon which they are married. Next, he places a pottu, the familiar Hindu dot made of kunkum, yellow turmeric powder tainted red by slaked lime, on the centre of her forehead.


The newly-weds are showered with flowers and a coconut is broken to ward off evil spirits. They exchange garlands, then rice is sprinkled on them, symbolising prosperity and fertility, and finally the ceremony ends with the wedding banquet.


During the vivaah sanskar, which lasts for about three hours, the bride has to change garments three times, accompanied by different hair-styles and jewellery.


Muslim nikah ceremony
To begin, a ceremony takes place in which the women members of the groom's family visit the bride's house where they join the women there, including the bride, to have exquisite, intricate designs of mehendi, made from henna, applied to their hands and feet.


The nikah, the registration of the marriage, is mostly carried out at a mosque, usually after late afternoon prayer, in the presence of the Muslim registrar of marriages and the male relatives and friends of the bride and groom. Sometimes nikah is held at the venue of the wedding reception.


At the conclusion, the groom provides a mandatory gift to the bride, known as mahr, in the form of money or possessions as specified in Muslim marriage contracts, which then legally becomes her property. To be binding, the groom must say the word "mahr" when presenting his gift.


The bride arrives first at the reception, and is led to the bridal seat. On the groom's arrival he is welcomed by a male relative of the bride and then led to the seat. Here the husband secures a shawadi, a necklace, on his wife, and places the wedding ring on her finger.


A ritual, waleema, is held within a week of the wedding, hosted by the bride, which signifies the groom has become a member of the household.


Christian church ceremony

Christian weddings follow, to a large degree, the Western example, and are held in a highly-decorated church. The groom and his family are the first to enter. Then the bride, wearing a white sari or a wedding gown, and accompanied by her retinue, walks down the aisle arm-in-arm with her father to the music of the Wedding March.


The groom meets the bride and her father at the altar. It is where the bride is given away to the groom, and then the priest (or vicar) undertakes the ceremony, first by reading their marriage vows, which, after having agreed to, they are joined in holy matrimony.


The wedding rings, blessed, are exchanged by the bride and groom, who proceed to the vestry where, in the presence of family members, and with the choir singing hymns of rejoice, the couple and witnesses sign the marriage register. The reception is held thereafter.

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    Hindu ceremony: Groom holds the thali made with a gold coin
    © Baskaran Rajan

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    Muslim ceremony: Intricate Mehendi designs are drawn on the hands of the bride
    © Mihirani Sourjah

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    Christian ceremony
    © S Muralidaran

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    The poruwa ceremony: A ritual with seven betel-sheaves, each containing a coin
    © Rasika Surasena

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    Poruwa ceremony: Blessed water is poured over the tied fingers of the couple
    © Rasika Surasena

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    The singing of Jayamangala Gatha
    © Rasika Surasena

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    The groom tying the thali
    © Baskaran Rajan

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    The couple exchanging garlands
    © Baskaran Rajan

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    The couple along with the bestman and bride's maid walking around the holy fire
    © Baskaran Rajan

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    The groom secures a necklace on his bride
    © Mihirani Sourjah

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    The nikah, the registration of marriage taking place
    © Mihirani Sourjah

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    The marriage register being signed at the Church
    © S Muralidaran

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    The couple receiving blessings from the priest
    © Mihirani Sourjah

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