Phleng Kar – Khmer Wedding Music

Written by iHeartKhmer, November 1, 2022

In every culture weddings are important and a big step in two individuals lives, but in the Khmer culture it is even more of a celebration and there are long drawn out rituals that have been a tradition in the Khmer culture since the beginning, over one thousand years ago.  The wedding ceremony takes three days, if not more in some cases.

The first two days consists of a ritual of ceremonies at the bride’s family home.  There is giving of this and taking of that. The community brings bowls of fresh fruit in the morning and all throughout the day.  The entire time Khmer wedding music, or Phleng Kar as they call it, is playing beautifully in the background.

When I say, “playing beautifully in the background,” I do not mean off of cassettes or the radio.  For wedding ceremonies a seven person ensemble is present making the beautiful music with seven of their traditional instruments.  The wedding ensemble is performed by the oldest and talented of musicians due to the seriousness and importance of a wedding.

The wedding starts late, around 6 or 7, on the third day.  Everyone in the community comes and the best of Cambodian food is served throughout a ten course meal.  The women all look their best, wearing silk dresses, make up, and their hair done up nicely. The aroma of the room is amazing.  It is full of pure happiness. Everyone is full of smiles, dancing, and full of politeness. The music is amazing and adds to it all, and in some say it fuels the Khmer culture and happiness.

There are many different rituals going on within the ceremony, and there is a specific Phleng Kar song for each one of them.  Rituals include: the leading of the bride’s groom to the bride’s house, asking for the breaking of the fence to get into the house, and the beginning of the ceremony.  Within the ceremony there are many traditions such as the hair cut, the cutting of betel flowers into pieces and scattering them on heads of the couple, the drawing of a sword, the binding of thread around the wrist, the kowtowing of the sun god, the entering into the wedding room, the sweeping of the wedding mat, and the greeting of parents and relatives.  

The Khmer wedding music is played obnoxiously loud, to a level that most people would not enjoy, but the Khmer people absolutely love it and enjoy it.  It is a way to show off their happiness and celebrate the beginning of their new life with everyone. The music to them is completely peaceful and magical, but to others who are not accustomed to it, it may sound a little obnoxious due to the high pitched sounds of the traditional instruments.

While the music may sound chaotic, the people are not.  The Khmer people are extremely polite and a marriage ceremony is a very somber, emotional event.  Marriage to the Khmer is more than about the bride and groom’s life together, it is about their lives, how they were raised, reflect upon their parent’s good deeds, and of course, the journey they are going to have together.

The Phleng Kar is played extremely from the early morning of the wedding day to the conclusion of the ceremony (the thread-tying and the blessing) early next day.

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