Tibetan marriage customs
Tibet is a religious and mysterious land with all year-round snow, sky-towering mountains and star-stubbed lakes. With all these as the stage and witnesses, Tibetan marriage feels more sacred and impressive for foreigners.
When a man is interested in a lady, he will seek her age, date of birth and her zodiac attribute (i.e mouse, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, chicken, dog or pig). With all the information on hand, he will consult an astrologist to check if her attributes are compatible with his. If so and if his parents are pleased with the lady in question, they will get a matchmaker to propose to her family. The matchmaker will bring along Khatag, chang, Yak Butter Tea and other gifts when visiting the lady's family. Her family will accept the gifts if they agree.
Once the family accepts the proposal, another day will be picked for their engagement. The ceremony will be held at the lady's house. On that particular day, the man's family has to send Khatag and other gifts to every member of the lady's family. Both their parents and two witnesses will participate in the ceremony. After the exchange of gifts, one witness will read the duplicate betrothal contracts and the other will check them after that. They will then sign the contracts with the seals of the two families and pass them to both sides. Finally the lady's family will hold a banquet to celebrate the occasion. At the end of the banquet, each guest will be presented with Khatag upon leaving.
Before the wedding, the lady's family will choose an auspicious day to send dowry to the man. A small steel statue of Bodhisattva, a roll of sutra along with a stupa, believed to be the dowry of Princess Wencheng of the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907) when she married the palmary Songtsen Gampo (742 - 798), remain as the essential articles. The man's family, on the other hand, has to send a set of costumes to the lady for her wedding on the wedding eve.
On the wedding day, the groom's family will invite a person with good reputation and a group of riders to fetch the bride. A well-decorated pregnant horse with color suitable with the bride's zodiac attributes is also brought along for the bride. A colored arrow (covered in a five-colored Khatag), matched with a mirror, precious jade and some jewels will also be taken. Upon entering the bride's house, the colored arrow will be placed onto the back collar of the bride. The jade piece is placed onto her head to symbolize that she belongs to the groom's family. When the bride leaves, her family will take the colored arrow and a gigot upstairs and shout repeatedly 'Don't take our good luck away' until she is out of sight.
The convoy is usually led by the astrologist, who wears a white gown. He rides on a white horse and holds a picture of the Nine Courts and Eight Diagrams. Following behind are the welcoming group, the bride, accompanied by a woman on her side, and finally members of the groom at the end. The whole team sings loudly all the way while the bride weeps due to her separation from her family.
Before the arrival of the bride, the groom would have the gate decorated and a cushion of barley laid in front of his house. The cushion is covered with a piece of colorful embroidered cloth, on the top of which are some kernels in the shape of the propitious swastika. His family members welcome the bride with chang and chemar (a propitious funneled box with barley and Tsamba separately put inside and butter sculptures stuck onto). Upon arrival at the groom's house, the bride has to tramp on the road with barley and tea leaves, symbolizing the harvest she is bringing into the family. After accepting the Khatag presented by the groom, she enters the house. The bride and groom will then sit together in the living room to receive good wishes, Khatag and other gifts from guests. Then the newly wed are sent to their room, where lamas recite sutras to bless them. The family holds a banquet for the guests. Friends and relatives will sing and dance to celebrate. During the night, they will play funny games to tease the couple. For some rich families, the banquet may go on for 3 days or more.
Usually 3 or 6 months after the marriage, the newly wed will visit the bride's parents. The bride's family has to prepare barley, swastika pictures and others to welcome them and exchange Khatag, yak butter tea, chemar and other gifts with each other. Only then is the whole marriage ceremony considered completed.
'Raping Bride' is a custom which used to be widespread in Tibet. The custom came about as a result of youngsters finding their own love but marriage was always put off or delayed by the parents concerned. The way it worked was that the woman would pass by a road where the man and his friends were hiding, as planned. She then pretended to struggle when the men jumped on her and naturally, she would end up as the captive.
This custom is typically practiced in the Tsang regions. Other regions may have a different practice somewhat. A groom may reside in the bride's house after marriage in Tibet. Moreover, men and women nowadays have more freedom in choosing their partners. Even cars were used in some places, replacing the old practice of using horses. However, the traditional ceremonies are still being followed more or less.