Samui Wining & Dining
Wed In Bliss

Indian wedding celebrations bring a touch of Bollywood to Anantara Bophut Resort & Spa.


Wed In BlissSomething magical happens every day on Samui. And it’s not just the sunrise, the feel of soft sand under your feet or the waves gently lapping upon the shore. For some couples, it’s the beginning of a new life together. And at any one time, somewhere on the island in the late afternoon sun, two people will be pledging their undying love for one another.


Samui has been a popular destination for Europeans and Australians to get married for a number of years. And whilst a few opt for a traditional Thai Buddhist service, most choose to have a ‘Western’ style ceremony on the beach presided over by a minister or celebrant. But a new and very lucrative market has recently been enticed to our shores. And it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, given that India is just a couple of hours away by air and is home to more than a billion people.


Manish Jha is the General Manager of the Anantara Bophut Resort & Spa and was born in India, and he explains, “Thailand itself isn’t a new destination for Indian couples and their families. And there’re several large resorts on the mainland that focus on the Indian wedding market. But Anantara Bophut has recently hosted Samui’s first major Hindu wedding and believe me when I say that Indians really know how to celebrate.”


Should the wedding have had taken place in India, the whole celebration could’ve lasted up to ten days with hundreds, if not thousands, of guests invited to some or all of the festivities. As it was, the happy couple had several hundred guests with them on Samui and took over the whole of Anantara Bophut Resort for three days. “Months of planning went into the event,” Manish says, and every member of staff was wholly focused on the couple, their family and friends. And by having the resort to themselves, we could set aside rooms, the gardens, the spa, our restaurants and the beachfront for all the varied rituals, dinners and the main reception. It was quite different from the usual wedding ceremonies that we host, and truly memorable for everyone.


And it’s quite normal for Indian couples to opt for beach weddings. India does have an extensive coastline and places like Goa, Kerala and Lakshwadeep are perennially popular. But like any couple from Europe or Australia, jetting off to a tropical island with close family and friends is just as appealing and romantic to Indian couples. Unlike a Western-style wedding, which is mostly centred on the wedding day, the build-up to a Hindu ceremony is a heady mixture of prayers, solemnity, music, dancing, feasting and, most importantly, the joining of two families.


Indian wedding traditions vary across religion, caste, ethnicity, language and region. But ultimately it’s still about two people declaring their love for one another, making lifelong promises and exchanging symbols of their commitment in the form of rings. However, the couple at Anantara did bring a Hindu priest from India to preside over the holy rituals and special artists to apply the henna tattoos for the bridal party. The former plays a central role in Hindu ceremonies and the latter are for good luck and need to be applied in a very specific way. And they also brought a very well known DJ, who has a huge amount of experience with Hindu ceremonies, over from Singapore to facilitate the reception. As Manish explained, “You haven’t really been to a wedding reception until you’ve witnessed an Indian wedding. Think along the lines of a grand, lavish, loud, multi-coloured Bollywood production. And that’s just the warm-up.”


However, it isn’t all fun and festivities, and prayers and rituals have to be observed the day before and during the wedding ceremony which can last for several hours. And whilst there’re many versions of the marriage ceremony, each is based on one of the Vedic scriptures. If you’re fortunate enough to be invited to one the wedding day will often begin with the ‘Mangal Vadya’, the playing of the Shahenai, a traditional reed flute-like wind instrument, and Noubat, which are small drums. Then the groom is welcomed in the ‘Swagatam’ ceremony and he’ll often arrive by elephant. Escorted by his family and friends he’ll be greeted by the bride’s family. He is then asked to break the Saapath (an earthen clay pot) symbolizing his strength and virility. Then he is led to the ‘Lagna Mandap’ (stage) where the wedding ceremony is performed.


Shortly afterwards the bride will arrive and be seated behind a white curtain, a symbol of traditional barriers. After the bride’s father thanks the gods, the curtain is removed and the couple exchange flower garlands. The wedding ceremony then continues with worship to Lord Ganesha, the remover of all obstacles. Ceremonial offerings are also made to Varuna, Lord of the Seas. A copper vessel containing water, flowers and coconut is worshipped. This is followed by worship to the Lords of the five basic elements of creation; fire, earth, water, air, and light.


The most important part of the ceremony is the ‘Kanya Daan’ or the giving away of the bride. Her parents invoke the gods and give their blessing after which the couple join hands in the ‘Hasta Melap’ and the ends of the scarves worn by the bride and groom are then tied together signifying unity. The marriage is then solemnized in the ‘Mangal Fera’ before the Lord Agni (the Sacred Fire). He is the symbol of light, power, and purity and acts as the principal witness to the ceremony. The groom will then offer ‘Mangal Sutra’, a sacred necklace made of black beads, to his wife and place ‘Sindoor’ (a red powder) on her forehead. Both signify the mark of a married woman and are symbols of his love, integrity, and devotion towards her.


Whereas Western couples take vows, the Indian couple takes seven steps around a sacred fire representing their seven promises to each other. Family members then give their blessing to the couple. And the last ritual, the ‘Vidaai’, then takes place whereby the bride takes her place in the groom’s family and throws a handful of rice so that the house of her childhood remains prosperous and happy.


After the speeches, music, dancing and feasting on the finest foods take up the remainder of the evening before the couple retire. And then the celebrating starts up again the next day. If you are invited to such a wedding, traditionally a gift of money is given and the amount should be an auspicious number ending in a one.


Love and marriage take many forms and none more colourful or joyous as a Hindu celebration. It’s a sight that you’re likely to see more often in the future on Samui. And long may that continue.


Johnny Paterson


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