March 6, 2007

Beauty of rituals

Think of the word ritual and we usually associate it with practices or ceremonies performed for symbolic reasons. Sometimes, the significance and purpose of a ritual is forgotten and we do it out of tradition. Witnessing a "water blessing ceremony" recently, it struck me as to how beautiful the purpose and meaning of a ritual can be; it was an act so moving that everyone present was moved to tears.

To an alien, pouring water onto someone's hands using a conch shell would seem to be a strange practice, as with piercing our bodies, or shaking hands when we meet. But if you're familiar with Thai weddings, (or if you've just googled up "water blessing ceremony") you will know that this is a common ceremony done at Thai weddings; the couple, joined by a lei of flowers tied together with string and placed on the couple's heads, signifying their unity, is seated at a table with their hands held over a cushion. The bride's mother and father, followed by the rest of the guests, bless the couple by pouring water over their palms with a conch shell as they wish them well for their future. I came to know of this ceremony at a wedding where the bride was Thai. While watching the couple being blessed by their family members, tears welled in the guests' eyes while some wept. As I watched the ritual, the meaning and purpose of it became much more salient than any other wedding ceremonies I have been to.

This was because the guests knew that both women took two years to convince their families to participate in their wedding. They also knew that it took a lot of love and support from friends and families to be involved in the entire wedding process, when many were resistant to the idea in the first place. It was not just a party or gathering with friends, but an affirmation of their relationship blessed and acknowledged by those that mean the most to them. The value of such an affirmation is sometimes taken for granted at most weddings, but is a scarce and valuable ritual for gay couples, when parents or loved ones knew no other than a prejudiced society.

In a society or family where same-sex relationships and open expressions are taboo, the water blessing ceremony became very meaningful and purposeful; it provided a way in which to express their love and acceptance.

The significance of this ritual as observed then is also telling of such difficulties faced by gay couples. Prior to this, I would have thought it unimaginable for a traditional Asian family to affirm a gay relationship so publicly. It took two years, but they turned around in the end, and they in turn, got the support from relatives too. All were involved in organising the event including a traditional Chinese tea ceremony, as the other bride was Chinese. They didn't change the world, but they changed the world they inhabit for the better.

I truly recommend attending not just any wedding, but one that had to overcome many obstacles to make it happen; to experience the beauty of rituals, the significance of it, and most importantly, to bear witness to love, courage, and its capacity for real change in our society.

Published in The Sun Mon, 05 Mar 2007

No comments: