A Malay wedding is one of the most notable and lavish occasions in Malay society. Rich in local tradition melded with the tenets of Islam, the wedding celebrates the couples marriage in a ceremony fit for a king and queen.
The wedding consists of several parts and covers more than a day.
Before the wedding proper itself, there is the engagement. When the man announces his intention to marry the woman, the adat bertunang (or engagement custom) is set, in which the couple’s families discuss the plan for wedding in the home of the bride’s family.
And then there’s the henna-staining rite to signify the imminent marriage ceremony. In this rite, the couples loved ones stain the couples fingertips with henna oil.
The first formal part of a Malay wedding proper is called the akad nikah (or the marriage contract), as required by Islamic and civil laws.
It gives the marriage its sacred and legal characteristics. In this ceremony, the couple sign the marriage contract, and the marriage is solemnized before religious officials.
The groom pledges to the bride a mas kahwin, which symbolizes his promise to take care of the bride and have a family. In some ways, this is similar to a dowry except that it is the groom who is paying the mas kahwin.
The next part of a Malay wedding, the bersanding (or bethronement or the sitting together) is more intricate. It is actually the wedding day. It may happen a day after the nikah ceremony. But it may take several days after, as it is more elaborate and requires careful planning.
During the bersanding, the couple sits on a sofa called the pelamin. Before the ceremony itself which usually happens in the afternoon, guests are entertained in the grooms house in the morning.The ceremony proper starts off when the groom and his guests, accompanied by male musicians (hadrah or kompang band), make a procession to meet the bride in the brides home. Attempts to stop the meeting of the groom and bride may be comically staged.
On arrival, he pays tax to the bride’s family. In the main part of the bersanding, the couple sits together on the pelamin situated on a platform. As a mark of approval and blessing, loved ones and guests sprinkle the couple with scented water and yellow rice. As a symbol of fertility, the guests are given a bunga telur, a ornamented egg festooned with a flower, as a sign of fertility.
Royalty for a Day
During this part of the Malay wedding, the couple are treated like royals. Hence, traditions in a royal court are observed. For example, court attendants in royal court costumes serve the newly wed; people acting as royal guards perform a demonstration of the traditional martial art called silat. Musicians also play Malay court music.
Note that bethronement may be done again in the house of the groom. After the bethronement, the couple lead their guests to a formal dinner or makan beradab. The Malay wedding is concluded when the couple pay respect to their respective families and photographs are snapped.