Friday, November 25, 2011

Off the Beaten Track: A Tibetan Wedding in Kathmandu

Tibetan Bride
Tracy Tyson is an American educator living in Nepal, where she trains teachers and helps schools set up Montessori programs. Several years ago, while living in a village near Charikot, she attended a Tibetan wedding on a trip to Kathmandu. This is her account of that experience.

Not long ago, a Tibetan friend in Kathmandu was preparing for her daughter’s wedding and invited me to the festivities, which were to take place at her house. I leaped at the chance to experience this fascinating tradition.

On arrival, my hosts escorted me into the living room, where I was shortly joined by a group of older Tibetans. The women sat cross-legged on the floor, while the men took the couches that stood about the room. Most of these men carried a bottle of either beer or whiskey, which they set down on a low table near one of the couches.

One man, who seemed to be officiating, took up position behind an urn where burning incense scented the air, and a couple of elderly men joined him, one on either side. On the wall behind them hung a poster of Avril Lavigne in a rather Goth outfit. What an image!

After the hosts handed beer around, a toast was made, and everyone received an honorary white scarf, draped around their necks. Next, the men started chanting, much like in a Tibetan monastery, and then the women sang something in response. They repeated this ritual several times.

When they’d finished, the "master of ceremonies" picked up a long leaf, dipped it into an urn that held some kind of liquid, and flicked the leaf toward the guests sitting around the room. He dipped the leaf back in the liquid and put a few drops of it in each person's palm. We all licked the liquid off our palms and smacked our lips with a loud flourish! (It tasted a bit like oil with lemon.)

Next, everyone received a fistful of rice and, after a few words from the MC, threw a bit of rice into the air and shouted "ho!". This ritual repeated three times, and then it was back to the chanting and singing. Later, I learned that the older Tibetans who’d joined me in the living room were elder relatives of the bride and groom, and by licking the liquid and throwing the rice, they were indicating that they had no objections to the match.

Khapsey Wedding Pastries
At one point, the bride and groom came in the room to receive blessings from the assembled elders. The bride wore a traditional Tibetan dress (that wraparound style you see in the movies) and had a woolen shawl draped around her shoulders. Her hair fell down her back in a long braid with a red ribbon interwoven at the end. The groom had on a Nepali-style suit with narrow-legged pants and a suit jacket, and on his head he wore a light-pink turban!

After the marriage ceremony came the reception, held at a Tibetan temple located a 15-minute bus ride from my friend’s house. Here the guests enjoyed course after course of food, along with plenty of beer. The bride and groom sat behind a table at the head of the room, with around 150 guests assembled cross-legged at low tables on the floor.

Interestingly, the bride's mother, my friend, sat on the main floor along with all the other guests and not at the dais with the groom’s relatives (the bride's father lived in the U.S. and wasn't able to attend the wedding). So I took a spot on the floor beside her. She understood little English, and I didn't know the right kind of Nepali to ask questions about what was going on, so the meaning of a lot of what I saw remains a mystery to me! But I did notice an unopened bottle of beer up on the dais with a white scarf draped around its neck, and I wondered if blessing your beer prevented hangovers!

Tibetan Butter Tea
After the first course of the meal, the guests stood up table by table and formed a line. Then each guest approached the bride and groom and draped a white scarf around each of them. They also deposited an envelope filled with money into a big bowl that stood in front of the newlyweds and was decorated with, you guessed it, another big white scarf!

Given the huge number of guests, this took quite a while and periodically, when the volume of the scarves around the necks of the bride and groom threatened to swallow their heads, they were removed to make room for more. (The scarves, not the heads!) The newlyweds apparently received quite a substantial fund to start their married life with!


  1. Thank you for the interesting account of the Tibetan wedding. Ceremonies can be so different from culture to culture. I went to one in Mexico, and even that was different. I'm glad you posted the pictures. The clothing looks so rich and detailed, quite a contrast to my usual image of life there.

  2. This reminds me so much of the wedding I (almost ruined) but eventually took part of in New Delhi. It was such an insight to the local culture that foregoing the visits of all the local touristic attraction was a very small price to pay.