The time I found myself in the middle of a Tibetan wedding
Sooo I guess it’s wedding season – it seems like EVERYONE is getting married right now. So I thought I’d write a post describing Tibetan weddings but I had no idea where to start and don’t even know if Tibetan wedding traditions are the same across the various areas of Tibet, so for now I’ll just write about my experience – the time I found myself in the middle of a Tibetan wedding.
My uncle was getting married a few years ago and before the wedding, I was told that I was going to be part of the wedding as the ‘baro’ – a kind of bridesmaid if you will. I had no idea what that meant since I’d never been involved in a Tibetan wedding before and was puzzled since it wasn’t like I was the bride’s best friend; I had only met my future aunt a couple of times before.
I had been to weddings where they do the khata ceremony, dinner, and party, but I’d never seen the events that happen during the day with close family members so I had no idea what to expect for the special day.
During the morning, a monk came my uncle’s house and was doing prayers and other rituals ahead of the wedding, praying for the success of the marriage. Only relatives of my uncle were at his house, and my future aunt’s relatives were at their family’s home. I, along with a few other people, made up the wedding party who had to go to the bride’s home to bring her back to my uncle. When we got there, we had to do a few more traditional rituals, and I had to help the bride get ready. After doing a some more rituals, we left the bride’s family’s home taking the bride with us in our convoy of cars decorated with khatas. From then on, I was expected to be at the bride’s beck and call, carrying her purse for her, watching where she walked for her to make sure she didn’t trip on her chuba, and running little errands for her. Ahead of the wedding, my Amala told me to always stay with the bride and do whatever she said and get whatever she needs and it did actually end up feeling like work – kind of bizarre, but actually kind of fun.
After the ceremony at my uncle’s home which involved him attaching a decorated ‘baton’ on the bride’s back (if I remember clearly, it was to ‘claim’ her as his), it was time for the evening portion of the wedding with the grand reception. The wedding party arrived at the reception later than invitees, and entered the venue together with older men and women leading the way in with traditional Tibetan song. Along with the rest of the wedding party, my brother had to walk in carrying a portrait of deities, and I had to walk in carrying a chadam-like object filled with chang.
Just when I thought I was off the hook and free to party, I was told I had to sit at the front of the room with the bride and groom. I thought okay, sounds easy enough. I didn’t realize I’d have to sit there for 2 hours straight without leaving my seat! I felt like a statue with people walking by staring. The fun part came later when people started lining up to put khatas on the bride, groom, me, and two other relatives. I never thought I’d ever imagine khatas being heavy – but when they’re piled up so high on you until you can’t move or breathe, it’s a different story. I had to constantly help free my aunt from drowning in khatas – it was like being on a production line; take her khatas off, pass them to the nice man, take the gifts people are leaving off the table before the next person comes, repeat. What I didn’t expect and what was a surprise was that I noticed that along with the gifts for the bride and groom, people were also dropping envelopes of money for me as they put khatas on me. When I started realizing what was going on, this is pretty much how I felt:
Jokes aside, it really was a beautiful experience that I’m thankful to have been a part of, and an educational one too. It really felt like a crash course in Tibetan weddings, with people giving me advice, instructions and coaching me along the way about Tibetan wedding rituals and traditions. One thing my brother learned the hard way was, NEVER walk backwards when you’re a part of the wedding party. At one point, my brother had walked ahead of the wedding party before he was supposed to, and when everyone told him to wait, he turned around to rejoin the rest of the wedding party, and everyone screamed at him not to move, like if he even blinked, the whole wedding would be ruined. It was kind of intense, but pretty hilarious to see him freeze like that.
Upon returning home after the wedding, I met up with one of my uncles for dinner. While talking about the wedding, he explained to me how the ‘baro’ is chosen. I was intrigued, since I still didn’t understand why I was chosen to take that role. He told me it has to do with our Tibetan zodiac signs – that the baro has to be of a certain sign. He also told me that those who take on the baro role are also expected to get married soon after and evilly laughed at me – I couldn’t help but give him the stink eye as I felt sick inside.
My Pala also told me about another Tibetan ‘tradition’ this past weekend while we were getting ready for a Tibetan wedding we were attending. When I was getting dressed, as I always do when I first tie the kherak around the not-so-flattering-around-the-belly chuba, I screamed/cried, “Why am I so FATTT???!!!” Pala said, “You know, in Tibet, ahead of special events like this, Tibetan women don’t eat for two days so they can look nice in their chubas.” I suspect the men in my family attempt to communicate messages through the fabrication of Tibetan traditions.