A Walk Through the Sri Lankan Wedding Culture and Traditions

Among the diverse cultural practices in Sri Lanka, the “Poruwa ceremony”, which is the commonly known term for a traditional Sinhalese wedding ceremony, holds an important place in a marriage due to numerous cultural implications. The ceremony takes place on a "Poruwa", which means “wedding throne” or “wedding stage”, a beautifully decorated, traditional wooden platform.

Concept of Our Poruwa Design

The overall design portrays the ambience of an ancient traditional Kandyan Temple of Sri Lanka. Kandy is a city in the central hills of Sri Lanka, which comprises a rich architectural history. 

The four columns with its beams & cornices provide the general arrangement of a verandah of a traditional temple. In addition, the 4 columns in the Poruwa represent the 4 elements, Apo, Thejo, Vayo & Patavi (Water, fire, air & earth respectively) of the universe.

The hanging oil lamps, “vilakku”, is a feature of any Temple in Sri Lanka. 
The Bodhi leaf shaped trim on the beam are design elements of a traditional Kandyan roof.
The artworks of the rear panels consist of 2 officials dressed in the traditional Kandyan costume called the “Thuppottiya”, the official attire for Kandyan Chieftains. They each carry a single lotus flower. 

The symbols of the Sun & the Moon are generally found at any entrance to a temple.

The patterns used in the Flags are of Kandyan period frescoes. The square shaped floral design represents purity, while the majestic lion figure represents strength, power & protection.

About the Ugandan Groom Attire

The kanzu is a generically white or cream colored ankle –length tunic worn by Baganda men as a traditional or festive attire.  Kanzu is a Kiganda word that translates into “robe.” This terminology is of Swahili origin considering that the dress was first introduced to Buganda Kingdom by Arab traders.

 

While the Kanzu is of Arab origin, that doesn’t mean it is completely devoid of Baganda influence. While adopting it, some changes were made to its design, specifically the hand-sewn embroidery around the collar, abdomen, and sleeves that goes by the name of Omulela. This is particularly unique to the Baganda Kanzu. 

 

Another unique aspect of the attire is the addition of a coat or blazer that was an inspiration from the colonial British dress style in the 1930’s to 1940’s. Unlike the Muslims who prefer to keep it plain, the Baganda spear-headed a stylish fusion of European and African fashion that still reigns supreme. 

About the Kandyan Bride Attire

The main attire of a traditional Kandyan bride is the 6 yard saree draped in the Sri Lankan traditional way called “Osariya

The most attractive element of a Kandyan bride is her Jewelry. She has to bear the weight of about 26+ pieces of jewelry from head to waist on her special day!

“Dimiti”: The long hanging earrings with chains of pearls suspended from an upturned cup shaped base.

"Hath male": The 7 pendants worn by a Kandyan bride on her wedding day includes the pendant from Nalal patiya, karapatiya and 5 pendants from the padakkam mala.  According to local beliefs these 7 pendants, generally in the shape of a swan, represent the blessings from seven generations of kin.

Nalal patiya: A head ornament with three long chains attached to a middle pendant. On the day of the wedding the brides’ mother will place the “Nalal patiya” and pin it to her hair at a given “nakatha” (auspicious time) as an act of giving her blessings. This jewelry piece holds its importance as it was initially worn by royalty and is used to distinguish the bride from others.

Ira (sun) and the "Handa" (moon): Two circular shaped pendants are also pinned to the bride’s hair. They symbolize an eternal happy marriage. 

The most significant part of Kandyan bridal jewelry is the set of necklaces. It is believed that the reason to wear so many necklaces is to ward off evil eyes from the bride.

"Karapatiya": A choker necklace with a large pendant.

"Padakkam": A set of  5 necklaces with pendants of different lengths and sizes.

"Palakkan": A long chain necklace with gold beads.

"Pethi male": The longest necklace and is made up of carved floral designs that are representative of a flower garland.

"Agasti male": A long necklace made with agate stones but today brides opt for a variation called gedi male which is made with different colored stones and pearls. 

"Seli walalu": A broad bracelet with intricate detailed carvings and gem stones

"Gedi walau": A necklace made up of a string of beads. 

“Atha mudu walalu”: A hand ornament  made up of  a central pendant with 5 chains attached. 

Hawadiya”: A chain like ornament draped around the waist on one side. 

Poruwa Ceremony

  1. Groom Entrance to the ceremonial site. The groom arrives first at the Poruwa with his parents, groomsmen, and close relatives accompanied by ceremonial drummers and dancers.
  2. Bride’s entrance to the ceremonial site. Then, the bride arrives with her parents, bridesmaids, and close relatives accompanied by the ceremonial drummers.
  3. Asking for permission and participation. The officiant will seek permission from the couple’s parents and the elders present to bind the couple in matrimony, and then, calls upon the audience to bear witness to the event. We will light 4 lights at the corner of the poruwa to pay homage to the 4 heavenly beings.
  4. Salutations. The Poruwa officiate will recite Buddhist stanzas in salutation to the ‘Noble Triple Gem’ – the Buddha, the sacred teachings of the Buddha (Dhamma), and the ordained disciples of the Buddha (Sangha) and invoking blessings to the couple. Then, the officiate will bless the couple by reciting Buddhist stanzas.
  5. Stepping on to the Poruwa. At the predetermined auspicious time, the Poruwa officiate invites the fathers of the bride and groom to escort the couple onto the Poruwa from the side of the poruwa to the beating rhythms of ceremonial drums.
  6. Acknowledging and requesting blessings from the God in whom the bride and groom believe.
  7. Acknowledging our ancestors. As the first activity on the Poruwa the Newlyweds acknowledge the absence of past relatives and pay respect to the previous seven generations of both families by dropping seven sheafs of betel leaves onto the Poruwa floor.  It is customary to offer a bunch of betel leaves when greeting elders at wedding ceremonies. Betel leaves comes from a plant in the pepper family Piperaceae, which is native to Southeast Asia and widely accepted as of high cultural value. It is commonly believed that the acceptance of a set of betel leaves  signifies the readiness of the person accepting it to forgive any wrong actions or mis-steps of the person giving it.
  8. Tying the Nuptial Knot. Then it is the time to tie the Nuptial Knot. This ritual is considered the most significant step in the ceremony. The little fingers of the bride’s right hand and the groom’s left hand are tied together with a white thread, and water is poured over the knot to make their union binding. Both the white thread and the water used for this event have been previously blessed by the monks by chanting Buddhist scriptural stanzas. In the context of this event water and earth are expected to represent two eternal entities. Water is a symbol for life, without which no one can survive. So, water poured on their hands means that they will never lack anything in their future life. As the water flows, the things they dream of will flow into their lives. The water poured and the earth which receives the water that falls are intended to be the eternal witnesses to the marriage. Importantly, this ritual also symbolizes the bride’s father giving the groom the responsibility of caring for his daughter from this time onward.
  9. Exchange of Wedding Rings. While stanzas of blessings are recited the couple will exchange wedding rings and the groom offers his bride a necklace as a promise that he will always provide for her.
  10. Reciting the Jayamangala Gathas. This is a recital of a series of Buddhist stanzas offering blessings to the Newlyweds. (See below)
  11. Gifts to show Gratitude to the Parents. Followed by that is expression of the groom’s gratitude to bride’s mother by offering a kiri kada selaya or redi kachchi (a pile of white cloth) for the hard work and effort the mother put into nurturing the bride from a little baby to a young lady. The mother’s love cannot be repaid as a gift because of the immensity of her love. So this cloth is just a symbol of gratitude.
    • There is a very old story about this ritual. The story goes that during the reign of king Okkaka, the Brahmana parents Supprahma and Brahkma Malini had a beautiful daughter named Soumyasili. When she reached the proper age, she was given in marriage to another Brahmana leader's son. On their wedding day, the groom found the mother of the bride crying. When he asked her why she’s crying, she very sadly told him, “I suffered a lot to raise this daughter and to nurse her. Because of my love for my child, my blood turned to milk. A mother's love has no limits, but today she is leaving me. I can't bear the pain.”
    • Then the groom asked the bride's mother, “how much milk did you breastfeed and give to your daughter?” The mother said, “I can never measure it. I must have given her as much milk as it would take to soak a kachchiya or 36 yards of a cloth.” The bridegroom then said “I will give you a kachchiya of a white cloth as a gift to symbolize the breast milk you gave your daughter from the day she was born."
    • Since then, this ritual has been taking place on the poruwa. A mother’s love cannot be compared to a gift, but this gift is offered on the poruwa as a sign of gratitude to her for raising the bride well.
  12. Mothers’ Bless the Couple. In Sri Lankan culture, milk rice “kiribath” and milk signify prosperity. So for happy occasions, these foods are used to express wishes of well-being and wealth. At this time, the mothers will come up to the poruwa to wish the couple prosperity.
  13. Paying Respect to the Family. The Newlyweds also pay respect to their parents and grandparents, and close relatives by offering betel leaves. The acceptance of this offering symbolizes the acceptance of the couple into both families.
  14. Stepping off the Poruwa Together. The Poruwa officiate concludes the ceremony with a final series of blessings, and then invites the Newlyweds to descend from the Poruwa together using the steps in front to the rhythm of ceremonial drums. The fathers of the bride and groom lead the couple down the Poruwa steps as a sign of welcoming them into their families. As the couple dismounts from the Poruwa at an auspicious time, a coconut is broken to drive away any evil influences that will plague them in the future.
  15. Lighting the Oil Lamp and Conclusion. The groom and bride will light the traditional oil lamp as their first act done together as newly wedded. Lighting of a free-standing oil lamp signifies the sincere wish of the newlyweds that ‘let there be light for our life together.’

Jaya Mangala Sutta

Performed by Darshi Jayawardena

 

බාහුං සහස්ස මභිනිම් මිත සායුධං තං

ගිරි මේඛලං උදිත ඝෝර සසේන මාරං

දානාදි ධම්ම විධිනා ජිත වාමුනින්දෝ

තංතේජසා භවතු (තේ) ජය මංගලානී

 

Bāhuṁ sahassam-abhinimmita-sāvudhantaṁ

Grīmekhalaṁ udita-ghora-sasena-māraṁ

Dānādi-dhamma-vidhinā jitavā munindo

Tan-tejasā bhavatu te jaya-maṅgalāni.


 Assuming a ferocious form with thousand hands carrying deadly weapons,

the Evil One - Māra charged forward making frightening roars on back of the elephant

Girimekhala, with his troops to scare the Buddha.

The Buddha conquered the Evil One by evoking the might of his exalted perfection of generosity,

By the grace of this victory of the Buddha, may you all have the highest blessings!

 


 

මාරාතිරේක මභියුජ් ජිත සබ්බ රත්තිං

ඝෝරම්පනාලවක මක්ඛ මථද්ධ යක්ඛං

ඛන්තී සුදන්ත විධිනා ජිත වා මුනින්දෝ

තං තේජසා භවතු (තේ) ජය මංගලානී

 

Mārātirekam-abhiyujjhita-sabba-rattiṁ

Ghorampan’āḷavaka-makkham-athaddha-yakkhaṁ

Khantī-sudanta-vidhinā jitavā munindo

Tan-tejasā bhavatu te jaya-maṅgalāni

 

An arrogant unstable monster Āḷavaka: said to be more frightful than the Māra,

fought a night long battle with the Buddha.

The Buddha conquered this monster through the power of enduring patience.

By the grace of this victory of the Buddhal, may you all have the highest blessings.

 

 

 

ඒතා පි බුද්ධ ජය මංගල අට්ඨ ගාථා

යෝ වාචකෝ දිනදිනේ සරතේ මතන්දී

හිත්‍වාන නේක විවිධානි-ඡුපද්දවානි

මොක්ඛං සුඛං අධිගමෙය්‍ය නරෝ සපංඥෝ
 

Etāpi buddha-jaya-maṅgala-aṭṭha-gāthā

Yo vācano dinadine sarate matandī

Hitvān’aneka-vividhāni c’upaddavāni

Mokkhaṁ sukhaṁ adhigameyya naro sapañño.

 

Without lapsing if one recites and recollects day after day the listed eight* life skills

practiced, perfected, and used by the Buddha to gain graceful victories,

(*the two we recited: generosity and patience, and six others: namely loving-kindness,

concentration, calmness, wisdom, compassion, and direct knowledge)

such a person may find the happiness of release,

having overcome many and diverse obstacles.

Thank You!

Chandula, Lewis and their families sincerely thank every one of you for your attendance at this auspicious occasion.

A massive thank you to Mark, Rebecca, Dan and Heather as the Poruwa we have wouldn't have been possible without them.

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