Life among the pagodas
In Myanmar, wedding season is dictated by the lunar patterns of the Buddhist calendar. Every year from about June until October, Buddhist Lent takes place. During this time (which also happens to be the monsoon season), the monks generally stay within the confines of the monasteries, and it is seen as an inauspicious time to make any major life changes. Buddhists are discouraged from changing jobs, moving houses, starting new ventures, or marrying during this time. The October full moon festival of Lights (Thadingyut, as it is called in Myanmar) marks the end of Buddhist Lent, and not long after the full moon, weddings parties are taking place all over the city. Jim was asked to help a local friend take some photos for this December wedding, so here is a little glimpse into a Myanmar style wedding.
Wedding celebrations here in Myanmar are typically a morning event, and feel a lot like an open house event in North America. Before the actual celebration, the couple visits the local quartermaster, who inspects their papers/identification and then rubber stamps the marriage document (at this time, the law forbids intermarriage of people from different faiths). Then all the formalities are over, and the couple is officially married. The couple and their families will then make a donation to the local monastery in order to receive blessing, or merit. In some cases the family will visit the monastery to give a meal to the monks, or a monk will come to the wedding feast and they will serve him a meal there. Because monks do not eat after 11 a.m. each day, these donations take place in the early morning.
From then on, the couple receives guests for about four hours. Most weddings go from about 8 -11 am or so. Guests drop in, leave a gift or some money, and once they greet the couple, they are served a meal of rice and curries. (At this particular wedding, chicken and pork curries were served, along with vegetable soup.) There is no program or ceremony; you simply drop in and stay long enough to eat. People do not usually linger at weddings like they do in North America.
This couple is Rakhine, but their families have lived in Yangon for about five years. They are from Mrauk-U, in Northern Rakhine state, home to some ancient Buddhist architecture. Mrauk-U used to be a tourist destination, but its proximity to the recent conflicts in Rakhine state has all but ended the income of many people who live there and rely on the tourist industry for their livelihood.
The couple in traditional wedding garb. Couples will choose matching outfits, usually in a bright color. This particular outfit set was on the high-end spectrum of bridal attire.
The women dressed in pink and saffron are nuns, most likely family members. Merit-making is the main impetus for men who join the monastic system in Myanmar, but for women, poverty is the the primary reason most of them chose to become nuns.
The wedding venue. The sign above the entrance states the names of the bride and groom, and that this event is their wedding. At the bottom of the sign is the date (3 December 2017) written in Burmese.
Gift table. At the left are packs of tissues, which are given to guests and passerby as favors.
Monetary gifts are left in the silver bowl.
The wedding took place in a Buddhist monastery/community space. The monastery serves as a community center, and most weddings are held in monastery common rooms. The paintings on the walls and in the photo below depict various stories from the life of the Buddha.
A Rakhine-style wedding poster featuring characters from Rakhine mythology.