The origin of throwing rice is traced back to the early Roman period at which time, a grain, most often wheat, was thrown after the wedding ceremony for numerous reasons. The notion of a grain as a symbol of fertility, and the blessing of the couple in order for them to have a strong family line with many children was often the intention. Family was essential to support the newly growing unit because children were a work force and carried on the blood line of the couple. Fertility is also important as an expression of prosperity in agriculture, business and mercantile activities.
The Romans chose wheat because in their era it was the plentiful and honored grain of choice for the wedding ceremony, since wheat, rather than rice, symbolized fertility. The young virgin bride held a sheaf of wheat in her hand during the entire ceremony. Alternatively, she might wear a garland of wheat in her hair. Rather than the bride throwing a bouquet after the wedding, as is traditionally done today, the wedding guests showered her with grains of wheat. The single, and available young Roman girls would eagerly collect the wheat grains as they bounced off of the bride, because these grains were blessed by all in attendance which hopefully would ensure each girl a happy nuptial of her own someday soon.
Wheat, rice or any grain, has a direct connection in the minds of the community and couple being married since grain symbolically expresses the beginning of the cycle of planting, growth, and finally harvesting a crop. Further, agriculture has always been a union of earth, or the feminine aspect, and sky, the male aspect, as expressed through sunlight, or rain. The union of these two elemental forces created a good harvest, prosperity and happiness.
By throwing rice grain, or any grain, it is a way of saying, "we support and bless this marriage." The guests symbolically send them off with a wish for a lifetime rich with all of those blessings that are required to create a stable and happy life.
In some early tribal cultures, the act of having a meal with rice as the center piece or main course bonded a couple in matrimony, since eating together signified the intention to live together as a family. In other cultures, the symbolic eating of rice together preceded a shower of rice over the married couple.
In many Asian cultures preventing negative forces from the unseen world from affecting daily life is a common ritual. In these cultures, rice is grown as the staple grain of daily life. White rice is plentiful, inexpensive and symbolizes the mainstay of the diet, and agriculture of the community. Rice is used as a way of making offerings to hungry ghosts, and harmful spiritual beings so that they do not threaten the couple's happiness, health, prosperity and longevity. When the wedding party throws rice they are blessing the couple with all positive wishes, such as, fertility, health, prosperity and protecting them from harm as well. A well fed hungry ghost or harmful spirit who was present during the wedding would be honored and thus bring no harm to the happy couple.
During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, the wheat tossing custom fell by the wayside. It was replaced by the custom of baking small cakes from wheat, which were crumbled into small pieces, and tossed high over the bride's head.
Eventually, the choice of rice came about because it is widely available, inexpensive and white in color. With white being the predominant color as an expression of the virginal bride, the most obvious choice was cheap, clean, white rice. And, the tradition has stuck to this day.
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