A Balinese wedding, how does it work?

The best event in the life of a Balinese is the day when a Balinese man finally weds the girl of his dreams. It’s a festive day; family and friends get together to help the bride and groom celebrate preparing a life together, and everything is beautifully decorated. But, behind all the glamour of a Balinese wedding, much work is involved before the big day.

Why is marriage an essential part of Balinese life? To answer this question, we need to take a look at the philosophies of Balinese life, which is conveniently classified into four stages known as the Catur Asrama. It starts with the Brahmacari phase, that period of life when people are still young and learning; then to the Grhasta, when people settle down and start families; Vanaprashta, when people retire and devote their time towards spiritual maturity; and finally, Sannyasin, when people retreat from the bustle of life and choose the life of the hermit.

To be wed is to mature from being “young” to becoming a “family man”, which in Balinese culture means more responsibility as a community member. In Balinese culture, a married man automatically has to shoulder the responsibilities of being a dependable village member, such as paying dues and volunteering their time in preparing ceremonies, as well as being a family leader and raising children. A significant transition requires a formal celebration, and that’s where the wedding comes in!

In Bali, a wedding is a lengthy process. There’s a lot to plan, from the formal religious ceremonies to the reception. First, like for many Balinese ceremonies, the groom needs to find a dewasa ayu or a “good day” to get married according to the Balinese calendar. Usually, the groom’s family consults a priest and then discusses the plans with the woman’s family. Once the date is settled, everyone has to prepare for the long list of sub-rituals that need to be held!

After settling on the date (which can be months from now), the next step is the proposal. In Balinese, this is known as memadik. Both couple’s families will meet and compare family trees to ensure that both parties do not share a blood relation.

After the proposal, the groom and bride have their own duties, and the bride needs to prepare herself to be “taken” by the groom’s family. The bride gets a full-on treatment at home, just like at a spa, and her body is cleansed with herbal scrubs and washed. Once her body is cleansed, she undergoes a small ceremony with a priest, who spiritually prepares her to transition from a young adult to a full-fledged adult.

Once this ceremony is performed, the bride is forbidden to leave her family’s premises until the groom comes and brings her to his home. The bride is usually dressed in a thin yellow fabric which symbolizes her readiness to be “taken away” from her parent’s house and into the groom’s family. This entire process is known as ngekeb and is often done before the proposal, so the groom can “pick up” the bride immediately after proposing. In cases where this is not possible, the groom has to go to the bride’s house accompanied by the village officials and his parents to formally “take” the bride from her family.

Once the bride is at the groom’s house, more ceremonies are held. The first is the mekala-kalaan, a ritual which protects the couple from disturbances by demons. The ceremony also summons the spirits of nature to become witnesses of the newly-formed bond. Once the couple has been blessed by the Earth, they move on to the tegen-tegenan. A symbolic ritual where the groom carries a makeshift basket attached to a bamboo pole while the bride uses a garden broom to sweep the area in front of the groom as he walks. This ritual represents the shared life the two will embark on, so they must learn to work together.

Later on, the actual wedding begins. Called the majaya-jaya, the ceremony is overseen by a representative of the village’s families, a religious and administrative body, and a high priest. The couple prays together (led by the high priest) and then signs marriage papers (overseen by the representatives). Once the documents are signed and the vows exchanged, the groom escorts the bride back to her house to inform the parents that the ceremony is over. The bride is also given a chance to pray at her family temple to “inform” her ancestors that she will no longer be at home.

It takes a lot of effort, family and friends, and, of course, money to hold a Balinese wedding. But in the end, it’s all about the unification of two souls and the transition to a new era in life. After the procession, there will be a reception. Generally, Indonesian wedding receptions are large and plentiful Everyone is welcome to eat and greet the newlyweds, and the saying “the more, the merrier” definitely applies here. Sometimes, receptions are so big couples have to rent massive convention halls and hire catering services to be able to tend to all guests.