Weddings in Tibet still have a lot of traditional rituals and customs that are being strictly followed by people. And in general, a wedding in Tibet differs so much from what most of us are familiar with that it’s exciting to witness such an unusual event. For example, there are no sheer white wedding gowns, no official I do’s, and no wedding bouquets. Instead, the bride and groom often meet each other for the first time on the 2nd day of the wedding celebration, wedding gifts are displayed for everybody to see, and envelopes with money are opened in front of the guests, with numbers listed in a notebook.
Tibetan wedding celebration usually lasts two days. At first, they have festivities at the bride’s place and then the groom’s place. The future husband and wife don’t see each other on the first day of the wedding at all.
In Tibet, arranged marriages are still practiced rather often. The villages in this mountainous country are located far from one another, so there is not so much of an opportunity to meet someone you can fall in love with and get married. Women often are married to another village after the arrangements are made by the bride and groom’s parents.
The wedding celebration begins when the groom’s trusted relatives come to the bride’s house to take her to the official wedding ceremony. His closest and most trusted male relatives are sent to bring the bride.
In the past, the groom’s procession traveled by horses to the bride’s home, though today, they drive cars. There is a very curious and fun tradition to lead the car by a scarf attached to it – like one would lead a horse by the bridle – from the road to the homestead.
The welcoming ceremony looks very traditional, with people wearing the local bright traditional costumes. Many ancient rituals are still performed, so it’s a very interesting event for foreigners. It’s a pity, not many outsiders have a chance to attend a Tibetan wedding.
A monk welcomes the groom’s relatives with special religious rituals and a few of the bride’s young female relatives welcome the guests with singing and food offerings. In return, they present these women with white scarves called “kadak” to show their best wishes and call for good luck. Such scarves are also hung in several places in the yard and house and given as offerings to the gods. Soon, you can see snow-white scarves everywhere.
The guests receive blessings and are fed by the bride’s family. They are also served homemade barley wine.
The local villagers join the feast to eat, drink, and give the best wishes to the couple. For them, it’s a chance to say good buy to the bride before she leaves for her new home. This is the last chance for the bride, too, to be with her family and say farewell before she leaves her parents’ house or even her hometown and moves to the groom’s place.
The bride and her mother come out to the guests before the wedding meal starts. The parents give their last pieces of advice and best wishes to their daughter. Everyone wishes the girl a happy marriage. Her mother cries because she’s saying her farewell to her daughter.
Then, the wedding dress the bride is going to wear is presented to the guests. This dress is a present from the groom’s family, he pays for it. Every item of her future wedding attire is shown to the guests. Special songs are sung above this wedding outfit to give the blessing so that the dress brings the bride happiness. After the ritual of blessing, the bridal attire, shoes, jewels, and everything she will wear is gathered, and she starts to get dressed for the celebration. Her family helps her dress and makes sure everything looks just the way it should.
Tibetan wedding dress looks nothing like a typical Western-style white dress with plenty of lace, a low neckline, and a princess-style cut. Tibetan brides wear a traditional costume, warm (because it’s cold this high in the mountains), multi-layered, modest, and colorful. The bride’s head and face are covered almost fully.
At last, when the bride is ready, the wedding meal starts. A lot of various local foods are served. The first portions are offered to the monk, the bride herself, her closest family, and the groom’s family. After that, the rest of the guests are served. They usually have beer and wine to drink, no fancy beverages.
The groom’s relatives offer gifts to the bride’s family. Often, it’s food or groceries, household items, etc.
The bride in full wedding apparel comes to the guests. She receives presents and red envelopes with money as wedding gifts. Of course, everyone is told what presents (clothes, shoes, accessories, fabrics, linens) she got, even the amount of money every guest gave her – the life in Tibetan villages is not very eventful, so people entertain themselves as they can during the rare weddings. The money is carefully listed in a notebook to know how much the couple got. In the future, when the person who gave the money gets married, you should give him or her appr. the same amount of money you got from them. That’s considered appropriate and polite.
After all of the wedding gifts were received and talked about, more blessings and good wishes are exchanged again. The guests eat, dance, and sing. The festivities last until night.
The next day, the bride leaves to meet her husband. At long last, she will see him. She receives her last blessings, spends the last hours with her family, and promises to be a good wife. Then, the groom’s family takes her out. She says good buy to her relatives, friends, and her village. Her father shouts specific words loudly to the sky, wishing his daughter a happy life.
And she leaves her home forever. She will probably come to visit her family, but from now on, she will have another home. Besides, sometimes the road from her new home to her hometown takes several hours, so she won’t be able to come here often.
When the bride comes to the groom’s home, he already has a house where they will live together.
The groom’s family welcomes her and the relatives who came with her in the same fashion they were welcomed the previous day.
Before the bride enters her new homestead, she is given a bucket of milk as a symbol of the Tibetan nomadic lifestyle. She brings it into the house, as she will do from now on – Tibetans are nomads, they survive from the cattle.
When she enters her new home, her in-laws or close relatives meet her, together with a monk. They bless her.
The dowry is brought to the house. Some families even give cars as dowry, in addition to clothes, household items, furniture, carpets, groceries, etc. The dowry is presented to the groom’s family with pride, each item displayed.
A religious ritual with the monk is held. The bride promises to be a good wife and take care of her future family.
Finally, she meets her husband. He’s also dressed in traditional wedding attire. Usually, the groom is as excited and eager to meet his bride as she is.
Even when the marriage is arranged, Tibetan young people are happy to create a family of their own and to at last have someone to share their life with.
The bride and groom sit together at the table. They barely can see each other’s faces behind the hats and veils. Though, it probably adds to the excitement a bit.
Again, the process of discussing wedding gifts begins. Each present and every sum of money is named for people to hear.
The bride and groom are tied together symbolically so that they are never separated. From this moment on, they are husband and wife.
After this official ritual, the celebration with the groom’s family starts. And after the wedding, the couple will stay in this house, grow their farmstead, and have kids together.