Facts you may not know about the significant poruwa ceremony

June 20, 2018 2:17 pm

It is believed the tradition of conducting a marriage between a man and a woman via a poruwa ceremony dates back as far as the 3rd century B.C. 
As we attempt to keep this practice alive in a modern and westernized society it is worth exploring a few interesting facts shared by Mr. Janaka Harendranath Algama who is one of the leading Ashtaka service providers in the country.
He has been presiding over poruwa ceremonies and related rituals for over 20 years and is not only well versed with all the customs we refer to as poruwa traditions but has also spent considerable time understanding their deep cultural roots. 
The one Neketha that should not be missed
There are many rituals, recitals and symbolic gestures that make up the poruwa ceremony, and for the general spectator of a ceremony it might superficially look as if though there is a lengthy list of neketh or auspicious times that a couple must adhere to.
As Mr. Algama explained, many would be surprised to learn that the neketha to which the couple step on to the poruwa which is also referred to as 'poruwa matha nageemey neketha' in Sinhalese is the only neketha to which a couple is expected to adhere to according to time honoured tradition. All other neketh in relation to the poruwa ceremony are considered to be ancillary and discretionary.
The most important part of the ceremony and its significance  
And when exactly is the marriage solemnised during the lengthy poruwa ceremony?
Is it when the couple steps down from the poruwa?
Is it during the exchange of rings?
Is it during the part of the ceremony known as Sarana Bandanaya? Sarana Bandanaya is the part of the poruwa ceremony where the baby fingers of the bride and groom are tied together with string and pirith water is poured over the tied fingers to the chanting of blessings.
According to time honoured tradition this is the moment where a man and woman become husband and wife.
The pouring of water or pirith pang , which is known as “pang wedeema” over the tied fingers is a gesture with very deep cultural and historical roots.
Image courtesy :The fotocube
The gesture has always been associated with the handing over or giving away of something precious and valuable to another, in this case the giving away of a daughter and a son by two families so that they may form a new family unit by themselves. 
Divorce and the poruwa ceremony
There is an incorrect assumption among many that a person who has been married before cannot step on to a poruwa in order to be married again.
Mr Algama clarifies that according to Sinhalese customs and traditions nothing prevents a divorced or widowed person from being married in a poruwa ceremony.
According to Mr. Algama, the poruwa ceremony and the chanting of Ashtaka is aimed at invoking the gods’ blessings on the newly wedded couple and these blessings do not discriminate in anyway. All that is required of the couple is that they have a genuine and pure intention of entering into a brand new marriage. 
How creative can you get with the Poruwa Décor?
The traditional poruwa and its mandapaya has modernised tremendously over the last 70 to 80 years with wedding florists constantly creating elaborate and creative poruwa mandapayas to keep in line with modern wedding themes.
So how far can creativity be stretched? Mr Algama clarifies stating that there are three main requirements that should be met in order to carry out a poruwa ceremony.
Firstly the poruwa has to rise at least 1 to 1.5 ft above ground level.
Secondly, the structure should feature a canopy of some sort over the heads of the bride and groom. Thirdly the structure should feature three staircases, one on either side and one in front. 
The gift giving rituals 
The Poruwa ceremony always includes a segment where the bride and groom hand over gifts to parents and sometimes close relatives as a mark of gratitude. As the passing of time this ritual seems to have expanded from its original roots considerably.
As explained by Mr. Algama the gift-giving ritual was originally done by the groom by gifting 12 yards of white cloth known in Sinhalese as the kiri kada to his bride’s mother. To date, there are many couples who still stick to this tradition. 
Bridal attire 
Can a bride and groom step on to a poruwa attired in the clothing of their choice? Absolutely yes! 
Though the conventional choice would be to be dressed according to the Kandyan or low country tradition Mr. Algama has presided over many weddings where the bride wore western attire such as a dress.
With many inter-faith, inter-racial and international marriages taking place this is now a more common occurrence than before. While there are no rules about dress code, elegance, simplicity and modesty is always preferred. 
The Poruwa Ceremony is not a Buddhist ritual. 
Though the poruwa ceremony is the traditional Sinhalese marriage ceremony it must be noted that it is by no means a religious ceremony.
The Ashtaka recited during the poruwa ceremony are simply a call for blessings and though they are recited in the sanskrit language just like Buddhist stansas they are not the same as perceived by many.
It is no surprise that many make this incorrect assumption as much of the cultural practices of Sri Lanka are intertwined with Buddhism owing to the long history of Buddhism in the island. But the poruwa ceremony is strictly a cultural practice and as such it has no prohibitions with regard to who can participate in it. 
Header Image Source: Vishvi Weddings.

About the author

- Surekha Jayasinghe

Surekha jayasinghe is a freelance writer. A storyteller at heart she feels the best part of the job is being able to connect with new people, learning new things and growing as a writer with every piece of work she authors. She divides her time between her writing and her family.