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Nyen gi Tendrel: Weddings in Bhutan

Marriages in Buddhist regions of Asia have historically been secular unions without the blessing of the Buddhist clergy. However, some people believe that religious endorsements are necessary for this union. Bhutan, having a majority of Buddhist practitioners, definitely prefers the presence of monks and nuns who recite prayers during wedding ceremonies.

A picture of a groom and bride in a traditional Bhutanese wedding

How does it begin?

Before the ceremony begins, the bride and groom are neatly dressed in vibrant colors of ghos and kiras such as red and golden. The monks chant sacred phrases or mantras and light incense to the regional deities early in the morning on the auspicious day chosen for the marriage ceremony. This opening ritual is referred to as "Labsang." In the majority of Bhutanese ceremonies, the local deities are significant because, in order to obtain their blessings, people must first seek their approval. To do this, they try to appease the local deities by chanting mantras and making offerings.

It is said that if the local deities are happy, the ceremony was successful, and the deities will deliver happiness, prosperity, and good health to the people who were seeking their blessings.

Illuminating the room

Once the Lhabsang is over, butter lamps are lit to respect the deities. Lighting a butter lamp is also a symbolic way to chase away the darkness from one's life.

Then, the bride and groom are required to prostrate six times. After lighting the butter lamps, the Head Lama, or Rimpoche, is prayed to three times at the great alter.

After that, the Thrisor, which is performed to purify and cleanse our body, speech, intellect, and—most importantly—soul, is performed by the monks and the Head Lama.

Exchange of rings

Following the offering of locally brewed alcohol to the gods and deities, the bride and groom are given the remaining liquor from the same bowl. The term "Changphoed" refers to this custom. This represents the commitment between couples to live their entire lives together. The wedding rings are then exchanged.

The Head Lama bestows his blessing on the bride and groom with a ritual called the "Tshephamey choko," a tradition for a long life and prosperous marriage.

During the Zhugdrey Phunsum Tshogpa, a rite that comes after the Tsehphamey choko, food and fruits are served. Local deities are served first, followed by all those present at the ritual. It is not appropriate to discard or refuse certain fruits and meals. Hence, people are required take it in modest amounts so that they are not wasted.

How it ends

The final part of the wedding ceremony, known as Dhar Naynga, involves the lamas giving the bride and groom scarves in five different colors. These bright scarves are presented with best wishes for a long, happy, and wealthy marriage.

Thereafter, the newlyweds get scarves from the members of their family, friends, and visitors, along with congratulatory words and wishes such as "Tashi delek."

When all the above-mentioned rituals are complete, every guest is served with food that consists of a variety of Bhutanese dishes including rice, meat and vegetables items.The party is often held during the day and can extend till the night.

The present

Although the traditional wedding ceremonies in Bhutan have their own charm, people in Bhutan nowadays also prefer smaller events with only their family members attending the ceremony. Sometimes they also just prefer getting legally married in local courtrooms. A fun fact about marriages in Bhutan is that polygamy and polyandry among Bhutanese citizens are legal up to four marriages. In fact, the fourth king of Bhutan is married to four different women.

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