The Malay Wedding traditions

The Malay Wedding (Traditions and Culture)

Malaysia is known for many things. It’s a popular tourist destination (owing to the fact that it’s a stunning, spectacular island on the Malay Peninsula), and it’s also a rising economic power in the South East. More and more people are flocking to Malaysia, whether it be for work or pleasure. As Malaysia opens up to the world, the world wants a piece of Malaysian culture to be with them – whether it be their delicious cuisine, their tea gardens, the modernity of Kuala Lumpur, giant caves or their rich, multicultural customs.

Speaking of customs, Malaysian weddings are something of a star attraction for many. Since Malaysia’s cultural makeup is so diverse, their weddings are an amalgamation, boasting of several influences. The weddings themselves are grand affairs, with many ceremonies being performed, many guests in attendance and a lot of merriment.

Most Malay ceremonies adhere to Islamic culture and convention – sometimes to reduce costs, but mostly keeping in mind that Malaysia is dominantly Islamic. These weddings blend in elements of Buddhist, Christian and Hindu culture too, which will soon become apparent.

Initiation (Merisik)

A typical Malay wedding begins with the scouting process – much like the finalization of a ‘rishta’ in the Indian context, and is called ‘Merisik’. A senior member of the groom’s family will do the rounds, visiting prospective brides’ houses. He will visit with an entourage, and determine the bride’s suitability by inquiring about her family background and other aspects. He also carried gifts as a matter of courtesy. A highly traditional proposal will be made in the form of Malay poetry if the girl is deemed suitable.

Initiation (Merisik)

Mersikis something that is now slowly becoming a relic of the past, since Malay society is surging towards modernity. Men and women are now acquainted beforehand, eliminating the need for such an elaborate affair – but it has its own charm nevertheless!

Engagement (Bertunang)

The engagement ceremony is what typically follows the initiation ceremony. This involves the exchange of gifts between the bride and the groom. In more conservative settings, this is also where the dowry is agreed upon. Again, in our modern setting, the dowry agreement may still occur, but it is usually a token amount and most independent young men and women insist on this not happening at all.

engagement (Bertunang)

The engagement period is typically kept for a period of 6 months and can last as long as 3 years (that is one long dating period!) depending on one’s preferences and compatibility. This ceremony is also full of feasting, with an interesting custom for gifts – they are always given in odd numbers (1,3,5,7,9 etc.) because even numbers are considered unlucky. If the elder sister is still unmarried, then all the gifts go to her! I guess there are perks to everything.

Solemnization(Akad Nikah)

This is the most formal aspect of the marriage – i.e. the proper marriage ceremony. This ceremony is normally held at the bride’s house, or in a mosque on the eve of the wedding. This involves the presence of an imam or a kadi (who is a religious official) that presides over the ceremony, reading verses from the Quran. This involves the typical exchange of vows and responsibilities, which the groom must declare out loud as a testament of his faith.

Solemnization (Akad Nikah)

Interestingly, during more archaic times, the bride wasn’t even asked for consent before the ceremony began and would simply come to the room to sign the papers – now, that is not the case anymore. The signing of the contract is typically sealed with an offering called the mas kahwin, which can be in the form of money or some other commodity – symbolizing the beginning of their married life.

This ceremony is accompanied by two-three henna-wearing ceremonies, termed the ‘berinai’. These are further divided into the ‘steal’, ‘small’ and ‘large’ berinaiceremonies, and both, the bride’s and the groom’s fingers are painted with henna here.

The Wedding (Bersanding)

This is the highlight of the entire marriage! If you are ever invited to go to a Malay wedding but don’t have the time to attend all the ceremonies, try not to miss this one – as it is the most festive bit.

The bride and groom both are made resplendent – the bride, particularly, gets a makandam– who is her hyper-efficient PA and beautician for the course of the wedding. She is the one who takes due care that the bride looks her absolute best for all the ceremonies, and also sends the sirilat-latto the groom’s house. This refers to a betel-leaf arrangement that is sent to signal that the bride is ready to receive the groom and his entire party.

The groom then goes to the bride’s house with great pomp and ceremony, accompanied by a Malay Drum band (baarat, anyone?) and they dance and sing their way to their destination. There’s also a game played when the groom is playfully prevented from reaching the bride unless he bribes them and gets his way.

The bersanding finally occurs when the bride and groom are seated on a dias, and are showered with yellow rice and flower petals to grant them the blessing of fertility and prosperity. After this, the feasting begins where the bride and the groom – like kings and queens – feast with their combined retinue.

The Wedding (Bersanding)

While all this typically happens at the bride’s house, an extended wedding may also have a second branding, which will take place at the groom’s house. You’ve got to love Malay weddings for their dedication to enjoyment!

Guests present different gifts to the bride and groom – both monetary and in-kind – and for their attendance, they get a bungatelur, which is a hard-boiled egg placed in a bed of sticky rice. With the modern age, this has been replaced with chocolates, dry fruits, sweetmeats – you get the gist.

Another interesting thing is the bungamanggar, or colorful palm blossoms, which symbolize prosperity. They’re often tied to lamp-posts and bus stops to indicate the directions to the wedding.

A little advice

If you ever find yourself invited to a Malay wedding, rejoice! You’re about to witness something really fun-filled, festive and enjoyable – and you might want to blend right in. Now being somewhat modest is the best way to go, and ‘smartly formal’ is the way to go. That means no overt displays of skin and the shoulders stay covered.

Now if you want to go completely traditional, then the women can always go for the baju kebaya or baju kurung. A headscarf will complete this look as nothing else can. As for men, try sticking to your own formals as wearing traditional Malay attire will normally happen if you are a groomsman or a member of the bride’s male entourage.


Avoid drinking and smoking during these receptions (at least in full view) – and don’t worry, there’ll be room for that on more private occasions. Don’t be crassly affectionate with your partner, because it’s just considered improper in this formal setting. Pork and the like are a strict no-no because Malays are traditionally Muslims.

With all of this knowledge, we think you’re more than ready to experience or perhaps even recreate the feel of a Malay wedding – and we hope you have as much fun as is promised!

See Also:
Explore Turkish wedding.

About the Author


Monica is a moniker for our relationship expert. She's been working as a relationship counselor for over 10 years, and over time, has sharpened her personality. Unlike typical counselors, Monica is not afraid to use a harsher method to resolve certain issues that demand it. Even if she's a virtual entity now, she can still see into your soul.

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