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Khmer Wedding Protocol

By: EAS Staff Posted: February-26-2011 in
EAS Staff

A traditional Khmer wedding is one of the most joyous occasions for a Khmer family and typically lasts from three days to an entire week. It is a grand affair, full of color and festivity, as well as steeped in tradition. Family, friends, and other members of the community come together to share in the celebration. Musicians play throughout the day on traditional instruments, and the couple is dressed like royalty. The bride may change her outfit several times in one day. If the wedding were a weeklong affair, she could declare the color of her dress each day and the guests would dress only in that color. Unlike most Western weddings, guests are usually highly animated during the ceremonies, with elders typically explaining the significance of the various customs to the younger generation. Please feel free to turn to a neighbor if you should have questions or comments about what is occurring. You may also stand up and leave the room if you need to stretch your legs. Guests freely move in and out during ceremonies, which is not considered rude.

At the beginning of the day, the bride customarily waits at her parent's house while the groom gathers a procession of his family and friends. The procession symbolizes the journey of the prince Preah Thong to meet his bride the princess Neang Neak. The groom's procession approaches the bride's home bearing wrapped platters of gifts, usually fruits and Khmer desserts, and is led by a band of musicians and singers.

Traditionally, the mai ba (a well-respected member of the bride's family who serves as its representative) comes out to greet the procession. The different number of fruits and desserts are counted - the more, the better. If found to be satisfactory, the mai ba and ma ha (representative for the groom's party) run through a humorous verbal parlay which ends with the groom and the rest of the procession being invited into the bride's home.

Sien Doan Taa - Call to Ancestors
Today is a beautiful day
And the arrangements are ready.
We offer these gifts
Inviting you to join us and shower us with your blessings

In Khmer culture, family bonds are the ones that are the most important, and a marriage is the inclusion of the couple into their new families. At all important events, family and friends are called upon to share in the celebrations and offer their blessings. This ceremony calls forth for those who have passed away, both family and friends, to offer their blessings and observe the wedding, if not in body, in spirit. It is a time to reflect on those near and dear to our hearts and remember to include them in our happiness.

Soat Mun - Blessings from the Monks
Out of respect and reverence for the monks, we ask that you remain silent while the bride and groom receive their blessings during this ceremony. Traditionally, three to five monks or as many as seven
will invoke blessings which have been specifically chosen
for the couple by the monks.

Gaat Sah - Cleansing Ceremony
O beautiful lovebirds,
Let us look at your faces
Perfect shapes, all aligned.
Teeth as white and bright as ivory.

Before the bride and groom are officially married in the Khmer tradition, they must be properly prepared through an elaborate cleansing ceremony. The singers, representing visiting devada (deities who watch over the mortal realms), dance around the bride and groom. Their songs represent their enchantment with the beauty of the new couple, and they agree to personally cleanse and purify the bride and groom to bring them good fortune, beauty, and grace for the rest of their lives. The devada cut the hair of the couple and shave the groom, throwing away any excesses and misfortune that may have lingered. The new couple is also perfumed. At the conclusion of this ceremony, the visiting devada return to the realm of tansuor, the home of the gods and deceased ancestors.

According to the legend of Preah Tong and Neang Neak, they married without the naga king's knowledge. Neang Neak prayed to the devada to witness her hair being cut, after which they then carried locks of hair to her father. When he received her locks, he rejoiced in the knowledge that his daughter was being married.

Bang Chhat Madaiy - Honoring of the Parents
"Rumleuk kun madaiy oeupuk."
"Remember your obligations to your parents."
"Honor your parents as you do the gods."

This common Khmer sentiment is rooted in a Buddhist parable about not forgetting "kun" - a kind act or deed for which one owes repayment (a debt of gratitude). A monk explains to a temple visitor that without parents, one cannot be brought into the world to honor the gods in the first place. The traditional song that is performed is a reminder to the bride of the hardships of raising a child. It is a song of parental duty and fulfillment, which the bride and groom will one day experience for themselves. During this ceremony, the bride holds an umbrella over her mother, a gesture that symbolizes the reversal of the protective role of her parents.

Bongvul Pbopul - Passing of Blessings
"Mun ouy laing leah, mun ouy prort preah."
"Do not separate, do not part ways."

In this ceremony, currently married couples are asked to gather in a circle around the bride and groom. Three candles are lit and handed from person to person. Each participant passes his or her right hand over it in a sweeping motion towards the couple, sending or throwing a silent blessing to them. Only married couples are asked to participate, as it is believed that they will pass along the special quality or essence which has preserved their union. The candles are passed around the circle clockwise seven times to complete the ceremony.

Sompeas Ptem - Knot Tying Ceremony
Khmer weddings traditionally have a knot tying ceremony, but unlike what the name implies, it is the guests who tie the knots, not the bride and groom. Close family and friends are invited to come forward to bring their best wishes and blessings to the new couple by individually tying ribbons around each of their wrists. These knots are tied on both the bride and groom, who were traditionally required to wear them for three days afterwards to preserve the good luck. This ceremony has customarily been considered an ideal opportunity to take a picture of each guest in attendance with the new couple.

So there you have it !!. All in all an exhausting but culturally rich day ! Some other tidbits for you;

  • I cannot have married men in my Bridal party - usually 3 to 4 strong.
  • You do not give gifts but rather pass white envelopes containing cash to a designated "banker".The banker meticulouslyrecords the amount bequethed and when that person gets married you must match the amount.



I'm glad to see that there's

I'm glad to see that there's been so much interest in learning more about Khmer weddings! I'm the original author of the wedding program that this article cites (almost verbatim). The original program and wedding protocol, with more of the translated songs are available at the Khmer Institute at the following URL (the link above is broken as of 12/11/2011):

For those who wish to use my work, I only ask that proper attribution be made and a link to the original wedding program is provided. Thank you.

~ Rita Pin Ahrens


A friend of mine (Cambodian)

A friend of mine (Cambodian) once made a powerpoint presentation of his wedding I was allowed to upload: check it out


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