Yesterday I told you some about what a Songkhran celebration is like here in America with some of the festivities and food and things the kids can do for fun. Today I will tell you some of my impressions and observations of the day as well as tell you about some of the Buddhist traditions that were celebrated at the festival.
Thinking it over last night it occured to me that the Songkhran Festival at Wat Thai is a lot like a great big American family reunion where everyone in the family gets together for a huge picnic to eat and enjoy the day together, including having to keep an eye on the kids so they don’t get dirty or into too much mischief 😉
Imagine a family reunion of several hundred Thais living here in America that we (farangs) were kindly invited to join in and celebrate with and you might get the picture. However I can’t help wondering a ‘what if’ here that if there were not any farangs at the festival how different or ‘more Thai’ would everything be or how ‘Americanized’ would it still be? Just a curious thought 😉
Many of the events and entertainment were put on for show more for the farang guests like the kids musical and dance performances to show some of Thai culture and even some Chinese culture mixed in as you can see in the pics below.
In the picture on the left Chinese Lions danced to chase away bad spirits and Thai kids of many ages performed traditional Thai music and songs and were actually very good at playing the Thai instruments. These are Thai-American kids that mostly were born or grew up here in America but their parents, through Wat Thai and Wat Thummaprateip here in Washington, were able to teach them Thai culture through music. Imagine a Thai version of piano lessons as your growing up :p
However these kids are serious about how they perform because they practice a lot and they are quite good. Recently a group of them even did a performance back in Thailand! I think I will do some investigative reporting on this for a blog in the future for you.
Watching the crowds that day I noticed not only many Thais and Thai-Americans but also an interesting assortment of farangs there. Some farang folks who you could tell had been to Thailand before because they wore Thai style clothes (unlike the Moh-hom shirt I wore) that were very formal and festive. Also you saw several Thais with their farang boyfriends or girlfriends and more than several farang husbands and wifes with the kids in tow including what I am pretty sure was a lesbian couple.
I saw American skater kids milling about in the crowd with their skateboards and many African-Americans, some dressed in hip hop style with their ‘bling bling’ as well as several Thai teenagers dressed in the same hip hop style which I have to be honest that looks weird to me but to be fair probably looks no less weird than I did wearing the Issan Moh-hom shirt and Pa-Kao-Ma. 😀
It’s not really surprising to see so many different kinds of farang guests since Wat Thai is located next to two suburban neighborhoods but you could tell everyone loved the food and watched the entertainment even if they were not sure of what to think of the monks and Buddhist traditions.
While the Thai dancing and music celebrations were displayed on a stage in the back of the temple grounds, in the front of the temple and inside is where many Thais and farangs practiced some of the original Songkhran traditions of bringing in the Thai new year. Above me you can see where a large Buddha was placed outside the main temple entrance. Here people could buy flowers, candles and incense and gold leaf to make merit and pay homage to the Buddha.
Even though this was a small pavillion outside the main temple you still removed your shoes to show respect the same as if you entered the main Temple Bot upstairs. Check out my photo album and you can see not only Thai people but farangs paid homage to the Buddha as well.
Another tradition which is more specific to the Thai New Year is the pouring of rose scented water on Buddha images. Whereas you can go to a Wat and make offerings to the Buddha anytime I think Songkhran is one of the only times that pouring scented water on a Buddha image is specifically practiced.
This comes from the idea of bringing in the new year by making everything clean and new. You also do this by cleaning out your house and going to see older relatives at their home to offer new clothes and pour water on their hands as well to symbolise cleansing. Some Thais that have their parents or older relatives living here in America probably made this visit before going to the temple to celebrate. It is also tradition to do this same pouring of water ritual for the monks as well.
At Wat Thai we did not follow the tradition of pouring water on the monks for Songkhran but you could stop and pour water on an image of the Walking Buddha as this girl is doing in the picture above. Through out the day many people stopped to pour water on the Buddha and offer a quick prayer. This is a much simpler offering, almost ‘on the go’, than all the steps to offer homage to the Buddha in front of the temple with flowers, incense and gold leaf.
This is a picture of the main Buddha Shrine in the Bot or Abusod as the main ceremony hall is called. You can see it is different from a Bot in Thailand because even though the main altar is multi-tiered and well decorated the walls are very plain and all around the room they are only decorated with large pictures of the Abbot and other monks here and in Thailand.
The Bot is actually on the second story of the main temple building. Below it is another hall used for meditation practice and sometimes I have my Thai lessons there when we have a big class of students. There is a small stage and another Buddha Shrine in this room and behind the stage are storage rooms and the rooms where the monks sleep.
When there are only a few students in class we meet in the main office/classroom building next to the main temple building. In this building there is the kitchen and dinning rooms, smaller classrooms and also a private meditation room with a third Buddha Shrine.
Here it is very important that you observe custom and remove your shoes outside before entering. Throughtout the day many guests would check out the inside of the temple as they were quite curious.
Wow again I’ve written another huge blog and I haven’t even talked about the food and shopping yet 😛
I should stop for now since I am losing feeling in parts of my body for sitting in front of the computer this long. I guess there will have to be a ‘Part 3’ tomorrow.