Friday, July 19, 2013

Weddings in Malaysia

An examination of the marriage customs and traditions in Malaysia, reveals that that country’s three main ethnic groups, the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians conduct increasingly similar ceremonies during the execution of weddings within their respective communities..
A Malay Wedding
When a Malay man decides to ask a girl’s hand in marriage, he usually sends a male relative as his representative to her home. This male relative is usually accompanied by an entourage bearing gifts.  The gifts usually consist of  the engagement ring, sweets and an arrangement of betel leaves.
Once the date for the akad nikah or marriage vow has been fixed (Thursday evenings usually features as prominent choices for the Malay and Indian communities), the ceremonies get underway. A day before the nikah, the Malay bride and groom take part in a ceremony known as ‘mandi lulur’. The mandi lulur ceremony is conducted separately at the homes of both the bride and the groom. The ceremony features a turmeric based ceremonial bath scrub and is quite similar to the ‘haldi’ ceremony, an integral feature of a traditional Hindu wedding.
Yet another Malay wedding ritual which has Indian overtones is the majlis berina. During this ceremony the bride’s hands and feet are adorned with henna in a fashion that is quite similar to the mehendi ceremony of an Indian wedding. Both these ceremonies, the majlis berina and the mehendi ceremony are conducted with the same belief, that their conduct keeps all that is evil at bay.
The dawn of the wedding day sees the bride and groom perform a special ablution according to the dictates of Islam. This is then followed by the Malay wedding or akad nikah, a marriage ceremony conducted by a priest (imam) in front of witnesses. Once the nikah is solemnized, the bersanding ceremony gets underway.  This ceremony resembles the mandapa ceremony of Indian weddings, for during this ceremony the newly wedded couple is showered with blessings by the gathered congregation.  During this blessing ceremony (tepung tawar) guests anoint the couple’s upturned palms with various ceremonial potions like scented water and a paste made with pandan leaves and rice.
A Malaysian Indian Wedding
The Indian community in Malaysia largely hails from South India hence a Malaysian Indian wedding usually features the elaborate rituals of a southern Indian wedding. Before a wedding is arranged, the bride and groom’s horoscopes are generally compared for suitability; a date is then fixed in accordance with the auspicious dates of the Hindu calendar. A similar custom is observed by Malaysian Chinese wherein the birth dates of the bride and groom are compared for the fixing the date of the wedding ceremony.
Before the wedding the bride and the groom along with members of their families are expected to adhere to a strict vegetarian diet for a few days. A couple of days before the actual wedding ceremony the bride’s hands and feet are anointed with henna during the mehendi ceremony. On the day of the wedding both the bride and the groom take part in a ceremonial bathing ritual which involves the anointment of scented oils, turmeric and sandalwood paste. This ceremony is conducted separately at the homes of both the bride and the groom.
The bride then dons a beautiful sari and much jewelry and sets off for the temple. Bright colors and rich silks are favored as wedding attire. While traditional colors of mourning like white or black are deemed to be inauspicious and shunned. The Hindu wedding ceremony called ‘Agni parinaya’ centers on the holy fire and is accompanied by the chanting of Vedic hymns. The wedding terminates when the groom accepts the bride as his wife by tying ‘the thali’( mangalsutra or symbol of marriage) on her.
 Loud music, celebrations, the playing of games and devouring of a feast follows.
Malay Chinese Weddings
A Malay Chinese wedding features three letters(the betrothal letter, gift letter and wedding letter) and six rituals( the proposal, the divination of birth dates, the confirmation, the presentation of gifts, choosing a wedding date and the acceptance of marriage). The tea ceremony is integral to a Chinese wedding and before the groom arrives at the bride’s house, the bride undertakes an elaborate tea ceremony to honor and celebrate her parents. The color red which is deemed by the Chinese as auspicious is omnipresent at a Chinese wedding.
The groom then arrives at the bride’s house for the ceremony and tradition dictates that he must playfully try and sweet-talk, haggle or plead his way into her home amidst much mirth and laughter on the part of the relatives and guests. The wedding ceremony itself is very simple and features honoring of the elements, Heaven and Earth, the Kitchen God and the family’s ancestors. Another tea ceremony then follows during which the newlyweds pay respect to the groom’s parents. This is then followed by a grand wedding banquet.
Malaysia’s three main communities are quite distinct but having lived together for centuries, it is apparent that they are very closely linked. This is evident from the many similarities that exist in the customs and traditions which dictate the marriage ceremonies of these three main Malaysian ethnicities, the Malays, the Indians and the Chinese.

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