Cambodian weddings traditionally consist of ceremonies and celebrations lasting three days and three nights. Three is considered to be an especially auspicious number by Cambodians because of its association with the "three jewels" of Buddhism: the Buddha, the Sangha (brotherhood of monks), and the Dhamma (the Buddha's teachings). Due to the demands of modern day life however, today, both in Cambodia and overseas, all the following wedding ceremonies are usually completed in just one day.
The entire Khmer wedding symbolizes the beautiful legend of the origins of Cambodia and parallels the marriage of the first Khmer prince, Preah Thong, to the naga princess, Neang Neak. The prince was exiled from his home, and during his travels, fell in love with a naga princess. As a marriage gift, the naga king swallowed a part of the ocean, and thus formed the land of Cambodia.
Family and close friends come together to share in the celebration which is traditionally held in the home of the bride's parents. The Khmer wedding is a grand affair, full of color and festivities, as well as steeped in tradition. Musicians play throughout the day on traditional instruments, and the couple is dressed like royalty. The bride changes her outfit several times in one day, though if the wedding were a week long affair, she could declare the color of her dress each day and the guests would dress only in that color.
Cambodian weddings begin with the groom & his family traveling to the bride's home bearing gifts to the bride's family as dowry. Family members & friends are introduced, and wedding rings exchanged. Three traditional songs accompany the presentation of dowry: (1) Arrival of the Groom - A song telling the story of the groom & his family's journey to the bride's house bearing meats, fruits, pastries, drinks & desserts of every variety to be presented on the wedding day. (2) Presenting the Dowry - A dialogue between the matchmakers, parents, relatives, & friends of the bride and groom in which the groom's family and friends officially present the dowry gifts to the bride's family. (3) Inviting the Elders to Chew Betel Nut - Presentation of the betel nut to the bride and groom's elders. In turn, parents of both the bride and groom ask for blessings and well-wishes for their children.
A tradition practiced by Cambodians of Chinese descent in which the bride and groom offer tea to the spirits of their ancestors. In Khmer culture, family bonds are the ones that are the most important, and a marriage is the inclusion of the couple into their new families. At all important events, family and friends are called upon to share in the celebrations and offer their blessings. This ceremony calls forth for those who have passed away, both family and friends, to offer their blessings and observe the wedding, if not in body, in spirit. It is a time to reflect on those near and dear to our hearts and remember to include them in our happiness.
To prepare the bride and groom for their life as a married couple, their hair is symbolically cut, representing a fresh start to their new relationship together as husband and wife. The master of ceremony performs the first symbolic hair cut and wishes the couple happiness, prosperity, and longevity. The bride and groom's parents, relatives, and friends then take turn to symbolically cut the bride and groom's hair and give them blessings and well-wishes. Two songs accompany this ceremony: (1) Phat Cheay - A melody inviting the bride, accompanied by her bridesmaids, to the pairing ceremony. A distinguished female relative leads the bride into the room. (2) Kang Saeuy - A melody accompanying the offering of gifts to the ancestor spirits and asking for their blessings.
According to the legend of Preah Tong and Neang Neak, they married without the naga king's knowledge. Neang Neak prayed to the devada to witness her hair being cut, after which they then carried locks of hair to her father. When he received her locks, he rejoiced in the knowledge that his daughter was being married
Only married couples are permitted to sit around the bride & groom as the sacred flame is rotated seven times around the new couple. The flame of the pure bee-wax candle represents anger, which the couple should avoid as it can disrupt the marriage relationship. The smoke of the flame is sacred enough to protect them from all evils if they are sincerely committed to each other. Family members who receive the candle motion their hands over the flame to guide the smoke of the sacred flame over the bride and groom.
In this final and most memorable stage of the ceremony, family members and friends tie the bride and groom's left and right wrists with blessing strings. These knots are tied on both the bride and groom, who were traditionally required to wear them for three days afterwards to preserve the good luck. The praises and well-wishes of happiness, good health, success, prosperity, and long-lasting love are acknowledged and witnessed by the loud sound of the gong and joyful cheer. The ceremony concludes with a shower of palm flowers thrown over the new couple. While the bride and groom's wrists are tied with the blessing strings, the following song is sung: "We tie, we tie three strings to each wrist of our children. We wish for true happiness and success to this couple, who will always be together like wet grass seeds. We tie your left wrist to make you remember your parents. We tie your right wrist to make you carry on the family lineage and traditions."
Before the bride and groom are officially married in the Khmer tradition, they must be properly prepared through an elaborate cleansing ceremony. The singers, representing visiting devada (deities who watch over the mortal realms), dance around the bride and groom. Their songs represent their enchantment with the beauty of the new couple, and they agree to personally cleanse and purify the bride and groom to bring them good fortune, beauty, and grace for the rest of their lives. The devada cut the hair of the couple and shave the groom, throwing away any excesses and misfortune that may have lingered. The new couple is also perfumed. At the conclusion of this ceremony, the visiting devada return to the realm of tansuor, the home of the gods and deceased ancestors..