Sun, 03 Aug 2003

Traditional wedding ceremony strengthens sacred bond

Debbie A. Lubis Contributor Jakarta

The heavy head ornament and the hundreds of staring people did not deter Dian from walking into the reception hall on her special night.

Next to her, her soul mate Wahidin gave a shy smile to members of the extended families who stood on the right and left sides of the aisle leading into the reception hall.

A traditional dance performance welcomed the newlyweds, who looked radiant in their traditional clothes. The bride and groom's parents and other senior family members followed behind the couple up onto the stage, where they took their seats.

"I'm very enthusiastic about having a traditional wedding, but my husband was not all for it. He considers traditional ceremonies costly, as wells as time and energy consuming. But for me, it is a way to pay respect to my elders. Besides, the rituals are so sacred and meaningful," she said.

Many young couples are in favor of having a traditional wedding. The weddings range from a modest ceremony in the family home to an extravagant one in a five-star hotel ballroom. A wedding ceremony actually consists of two major components: the akad nikah, the actual exchange of marriage vows with close family members as witnesses, and the wedding reception. Some traditional rituals often take place before the akad nikah. Each ethnic group has different rituals.

Dian decided to blend the marriage rituals and customs of Java and West Sumatra out of respect for both her family and that of her groom's. Javanese rituals were held before and after the akad nikah and she wore West Sumatra costume and observed traditional customs during the reception.

In Javanese culture, the bride and groom-to-be go through a siraman (bathing in water containing flower petals) ceremony on the afternoon before the akad nikah. The ritual, which is aimed at cleansing body and soul, is held at each parents' house. A prayer is said when she/he is seated on a chair and the father starts pouring water with petals over her/him, followed by the mother. Elderly and distinguished women are also invited to participate in the siraman, with the number usually limited to seven.

Then comes the midodareni evening when the bride-to-be has to stay in the bedroom from 6 p.m. to midnight accompanied by older women who give her advice. She is also given body and hair treatments.

The family of the bride-to-be and very close friends also visit her; only women may enter the room. Goddesses are believed to visit her from heaven. The bride's parents also feed her for the last time, because the next day her husband will take over the responsibility.

There are many other rituals that Javanese perform after the akad nikah. One of them is when the bridegroom crushes an egg with his right foot, after which the bride washes his foot using water with petals in it, signifying that the bridegroom is ready to be a responsible head of the family while the bride will serve her husband faithfully.

Meanwhile, Effendy Hasibuan, 54, organized seven ceremonies for his eldest daughter's wedding. He invited relatives, acquaintances, colleagues and business acquaintances to the wedding.

Effendy, who comes from North Sumatra, also organized a special ceremony for his son-in-law, who comes from a different ethnic group. "I had to give him a marga (family name) because I'm from a royal family. It's for the sake of any grandchildren," he said.

The Effendy family ceremonies were impressive but time consuming. First, he gathered his relatives to officially inform them that a man had proposed to his daughter. Then he invited people in his neighborhood over to his house and announced the date that the man's family would come to formally ask for his permission for the marriage. Third, he received the family of his future son-in-law and determined the date of the wedding.

Effendy then conducted the ceremony to give his future son-in- law a family name. One day before wedding day, he fed his daughter and asked his extended family to give her advice. Then the akad nikah was held based on religious principles. After the akad nikah, there was a ceremony held in front of many relatives in which the couple were fed.

In the case of Anak Agung Ayu Mas Kusumayanti, the bond of religion appealed to her for her wedding ceremony. "The Balinese never ignore their religion, nor traditional norms and values. If we neglect them, we will be set aside from our community," she said.

The first thing Balinese do before getting married is to have six teeth filed. The six teeth symbolize six bad traits in Hindu teachings that people should rid themselves of. They then determine whether they come from the same caste. If the man is from the Brahmana caste but the woman is from a lower caste, the women's caste is "upgraded" through a special ceremony. If the man is from a lower caste than the women, the women will lose her status.

Then the woman prays at her temple before being escorted by the man's family to his house. The woman stays in a different room in the man's house and prays at the man's temple so that she will be considered part of the family.

The next day, a Hindu priest prays while makeup is being applied on the bride and groom in different rooms. They are escorted to the temple and are blessed by the priest. The couple wears glossy wedding clothes and are sometimes barefoot. "Usually the reception is conducted after the blessing, or several days after that. Unlike people in big cities who usually give envelopes with money enclosed to the newlyweds, the Balinese usually give them a wide variety of household items," Ayu said.