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GAYS & LESBIANS CELEBRATE
THEIR LOVE AND COMMITMENT
WITH TRADITIONAL
BAI SRI SOO KHUAN CEREMONIES
IN CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

all images are copyright 2004 by Utopia.
Contact Utopia for permission to reproduce.


Gay and lesbian couples wishing to celebrate their union have chosen to participate in traditional Thai bai sri soo khuan ceremonies, a ritual uniting couples or peuan dai (friends unto death) in the presence of their families and loved ones. Three couples in this report -- two Thai men, a Thai/American gay couple, and two American women -- undertook to seal their bonds of affection, to ask and receive blessings, and to unite their spirits as one -- in glorious Chiang Mai in lush Northern Thailand.

The couple passes beneath a spectacular archway, hand-woven using palm fronts, banana trunks and exotic white orchids, to climb the wooden steps onto the open-air porch of an ancient teakwood home. There, they are greeted by local women in traditional Lanna Thai costume, who present the guests with fresh flowers.

The home has been lovingly prepared for their special night. Northern style kantoke trays hold offerings for the house spirits (at left: betel nut and home-made cigars) as well as local sweets (at right). The sweets are believed to absorb the auspicious energies during the ritual and so they are consumed by the couple afterwards, to ensure good fortune.

First, the couple kneel together at the household altar, set with antiques from the old wooden house, and place fragrant incense there in a traditional Buddhist offering.

Exotic garlands created out of woven flower blossoms (at left) will be given to the couple at the conclusion of the ceremony. The intricate arrangement (at right) that looks like a huge blossom is actually comprised of strands of pure, white cotton thread that have been wound around matchsticks and arranged in a golden vessel for use later in the ceremony.

Next, the couple is treated to a traditional Northern Thai welcome dance on the garden veranda, accompanied by traditional instruments.

Musicians accompany the dancers on traditional instruments.

Following the private performance, the puu yai (elder) kneels in front of the couple and places their hands together, palms up, on a red velvet pillow in front of them. He then unwinds the loose end of another sai sin (sacred string) from the top of a large floral arrangement and incants a magical blessing while stroking their palms lightly with end of the cotton string.

The couple are draped with traditional floral garlands, then assume a devotional wai posture with the sai sin draped across their hands, symbolically connecting them, and the floral offering, together. They join the puu yai in a prayer for blessing and good fortune.

Next, snippets of cotton thread are removed and unwound from the golden vessel, and tied onto the couple's wrists, encircling them with spiritual protection.

One by one, family and friends approach to tie on more sacred strings, binding their whispered wishes for prosperity and happiness to the couple -- a simple and moving acknowledgement of their heartfelt support. Traditionally, teh strings are worn until they fall off of their own accord.

After posing for photos, the group may go on to enjoy a Chiang Mai style kantoke dinner and cultural performance before the couple heads off for a little privacy.

The Thai have also absorbed a number of western nuptual rituals into their own ceremonies, such as jointly cutting the wedding cake. The groom (or is that bride?) in blue seems to be preoccupied with thoughts of the upcoming honeymoon!


 

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