Friday, January 14, 2011

"Bersanding" at HDB void deck

I witnessed another joyous Malay wedding near my house.

The Malay wedding is known as Bersanding, which means the sitting together of the bride and bridegroom. According to the customs, both the bride and the groom are treated as king and queen for the Bersanding day.

Although the Malay community in Singapore lives in a contemporary city, weddings still remain big, community affairs. This dates back from the kampung days when all the neighbours and relatives pitched in to help with the preparations and celebrations. Relatives from Malaysia, and sometimes Indonesia, also made the trip over to spend a few days with their relatives on the island.

In the old kampung days, tents were set up in the front yard for the wedding celebrations. Today, to accommodate the number of guests, the spacious void deck is utilized as the wedding venue.

(Oil painting - Old kampung days, c.1960s)

Usually, the reception is held for 2 days. Dinner on Saturday nights and the main reception on Sunday afternoon stretch into the evening. Dinners are usually for close relative and friends to attend. Singapore Malay weddings are usually long afternoon lunches that stretch into the night. No set timing for the arrival or departure of guests. Friends and relatives come to greet the couples and enjoy the warm welcome, fabulous food, music and dance.

The arrival of the bride and groom is accompanied by a “kompang” troupe. They play the traditional Malay hand drum according to a distinctive rhythm and usually accompanied by songs praising God and Prophet Muhammad to shower blessings for the married couple. The groom is led by dancers to greet his bride. Malay martial arts “Silat” is played in front of the couple as it is believed that this would ensure that the “spirits” would show respect and would not disturb the couple throughout the day.

(Kompang troupe, 2010)

(Silat in front of the couple, 2010)

(Received blessing from the elderly, 2010)

There’s more to the Malay wedding than just the bersanding, which is really the height of the celebration. 3 days before the bersanding, the bride would take part in a henna-staining ceremony, where the couple’s fingertips would be stained yellow by henna oil to symbolise their upcoming nuptials. The day before, the couple would have a nikah ceremony to solemnise and legalise the marriage under Islamic and civil law.

Bersanding at HDB void deck is an unique Singapore feature. Since the inception of HDB in 1960 and introduced the void deck design for HDB flats since 1970, the HDB void deck has taken on a life that goes far beyond what was originally intended. Originally designed as a common space for social activities and shelter, void decks have since been used as valuable external social space for residence to meet, talk and possibly gossip.

(Typical Bersanding's setting at void deck)

HDB void deck is a place that we pass through, a space that we sit and wait, an external area where we meet people for a brief chat. It contains most of our daily activities. Interestingly, it is also a symbol of the 'circle of life'. The same void deck could be dolled up overnight for a happy Malay wedding and covered up the next day for a sad Chinese funeral. In between, it has also played host to teenage boys practising street soccer, and the odd toddler trying out his new tricycle.

It reminded me about Varanasi city on the Ganges River, a melting pot where people live, play and conduct their funeral rites by the same river.

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