I can’t believe I’m on Part 3 the final installment of my blog about Songkhran DC style. I had planned to only write one page on my experience but I kept finding more and more things to write about and still not cover everything I thought might be interesting to share with you. I hope your still with me and not bored by now 😉
I also apologize that it took a few extra days to get this final chapter written as my blog is now a week late since Songkhran was a week ago! My original intent was to write a blog once a week and after I get through my back log of blogs that I plan to write today that will be the schedule for me with a new blog each week written sometime on the weekend.
On the main things I wanted to write about today was the procession of Fai Pook Kean ฝ้ายผูกแขน that you can see in the pic above.
Throughout the day many guests, both farang and Thai, went inside the main temple or Bot at Wat Thai to see what it was like. Some people were at Songkhran for the first time and had never been to a Buddhist temple before while most farang guests were there with their Thai husbands, wives, boyfriends or girlfriends all celebrating Songkhran together and many I noticed took part in the Fai Pook Kean.
Before going into the temple I took off my sandals on the front steps and left them on one of the racks for your shoes on each side of the temple doors. You should always remove your shoes when entering a Wat especially the Bot or hall where the main Buddha image is kept. To not do that is considered very disrespectful. That’s why I wear Sandals when I go to Wat Thai because they are easy to slip off and then slip back on later when I leave. Also when sitting down in a Wat you must never point your feet at a Buddha image or a monk as that is also very disrespectful but I will get into that more later.
Many guests knew to remove their shoes before going in but if they did not then someone watching the door would politely remind them. I wonder how many people also knew not to step on the threshold leading into the Bot but to step over it instead. Most Thai temples have a raised threshold, which must not be stood or stepped on because Thai people believe holy spirits reside in these thresholds.
Being careful to step over the threshold I quietly entered the temple. I sort of described the main temple room in my previous Blog but let me tell you more about what it is like inside.
This is a picture of the main Buddha Shrine at the center in front of the Bot. It is the most decoration inside the temple. Most of the temple is empty except for the shrine. In the back of the room on the right were some folding chairs usually for guests to sit that cannot sit easily on the floor. On the left side were two very nice arm chairs probably for important visitors to sit and a very large gong in between them. Everyone sits on the floor for sermons and chanting at the temple except for the monks who sit on a raised walkway that runs along the right side of the room.
Trying to be as discreet and humble as I could, smiling and bowing my head to guests seated in the chairs, I moved around the room to take some pictures often times moving around just on my knees to show a more humble prescence during the procession. That was not very easy!
Although the temple is very plain compared to the beautifully ornate temples in Thailand I like it that here, same as in Thailand, you sit on the carpeted floor. It’s alot more comfortable than the hardwood pews I had to endure each Sunday growing up in a Christian church. There were large windows on the left side of the room that let sunlight pour into the room which also created a very comfortable feeling but if you weren’t careful you could get lazy and want to take a nap 🙂
Most everyone in the temple were there for the Fai Pook Kean and they sat on the floor of the temple in a line cutting diagonally across the room. It was actually very casual as they smiled and talked amongst themselves as they waited for the Abbot to give them a blessing. Many folks waiting in the line sat holding a graceful ‘wai’ with their hands in the middle of their chest and moved forward only on their knees when getting closer in line to be blessed.
The Fai Pook Kaen, ฝ้ายผูกแขน, in Thai literally means Fai ฝ้าย (cotton) Pook ผูก (tie or bind) Kaen แขน (sleeve). After Songkhran I talked to Phra Duchai one of the monks at Wat Thai and he told me more about the Fai Pook Kean ceremony.
Originally it started as a tradition in Laos and migrated into the Thai-Issan region of Thailand. As you can tell by the name more than you can really see in the picture Fai Pook Kaen means tying a string around the wrist. In Laos this was often a way of greeting someone, celebrating a marriage, congratulating someone, it seems there were numerous ways it is used. I have seen in books on Thailands hill tribes that to this day still commonly use this simple ceremony as a means of welcome. In Thai Buddhism it has evolved meaning welcome to also meaing ‘good luck’ and ‘prosperity.’ For the temple Abbot, or Laung, to tie this string around your wrist is a very warm welcoming into the Thai community as you can see in the pics above.
I watched as several families from noisy, cranky babies to farang husbands that kept asking “now what do I do again?” to old folks go through to receive the blessing. The Abbot often smiled and seemed charmed with the babies and spoke casually with everyone. Sometimes he would also bless you with sprinkling water from a bamboo brush like you see in the pic on the left if someone asked for it. Everyone also gave money for the blessing as a donation as you can see by the bowl overflowing with cash in the pictures. Thais it seem are very generous giving money to the temple more so than I ever saw in the offering plate at my church when I was a kid.
Other folks visiting the temple would also come to offer prayers and prostrate themselves before the main Buddha image. Some Thai families would also have their kids pose for a picture in front of the Buddha as an annual family picture.
I’d also like to apologize for the quality of some of the pictures I took since many I took inside the Wat of the ceremonies did not turn out they were too dark since the flash was not really powerful enough and using it the first day the batteries died on me 🙁 Fortunately I took most of the pics I planned outside where it was well lit before taking them inside the Wat. I had bought this camera just for the event but I returned it to the store and in the future I will invest in a getting a much better one for reporting in future blogs 🙂
After the ceremony inside I went back out to get something to eat as I was getting plenty hungry by then. As the day wore on the temple grounds were packed with people milling about mostly eating and watching the kids perform while many of the farangs, myself included, wandered through the stalls in the back shopping for what they could buy. Thai Market, the local Thai grocer in Maryland always has their booth at Songkhran selling Thai music CD’s and movies. I was happy I found two nice cd’s, $10 each, including one I did not have before of my favorite Thai band, Labanoon!
Check out the pics in my photo album to see more of what people could eat and shop for. There was a better selection this year from really cheap stuff for kids to the paing mahk (expensive!) I found a stall selling jewelry, clothing and also Buddha amulets, this was something I had hoped to find as the amulet I had at home broke. I found a nice one inscribed with โสธร, usually the name of the Phra, or monk, on the amulet. I asked the shop keeper in Thai, a really nice and happy fellow, how much it was. He told me $15 dollars but before I could say ‘lot noi dai mai?’ (can I get a discount) he said ‘for you, you like it $10 dollar! Who can resist a sales pitch like that ;)..sold!
I also found a beautiful bed cover in a red and gold Thai silk pattern that I would have loved to have but it was $30 dollars, no discount, and I only (wisely) brought $40 in cash, my remaining $10 was to get something to eat with. Most of the vendors there are cash only so my Visa card stayed safely in my wallet and unfortunately the Wat doesn’t have an ATM. Oh well maybe next year!
What farangs come to Songkhran for the most I believe is great Thai food and from the crowds I saw around the food stalls they were not disappointed. Nor were they disapponted in the selection from the signs advertising whats on the menus through out the food stall area. In the pic on the left is by far and away the favorite, the grilled chicken skewers! It is a huge and very tasty treat for only $3 and many folks stood in line for sometimes 10 minutes or more to get one. I’m glad I got mine early. The other very popular favorite is Thai Ice Tea, in fact it sold out very early in the day and no one had any left by the time I was thirsty and wanted to eat some lunch. Instead a settled for a Thai Iced Coffee which is my second favorite Thai drink.
By the afternoon I was hot from the sun (and unfortunately very sunburned on my head..youch!) as well as quite full from the food and having had a good time with my friends and the monks so I began making my way toward the street where the shuttle buses were lined up to take folks back to the subway station and parking garage a mile down the road.
On my way out I stopped to wai to one of the monks at Wat Thai that knew me and he called me over as he made announcements on the loud speakers. He began to describe for everyone the Thai Issan style shirt, or Moh-hom, and Pa-Kao-Ma I was wearing and he asked me if I were married. Maybe since I was dressed so Thai he was looking to find me a Thai wife !
Before leaving I made a small donation for a blessing. I wrote my name and date of birth on a square piece of gold foil handed to me then made my wish for a blessing and slipped the foil into the chedi style box on the table. Can you read what is written on the box or the monks silver bowl in these two pics?
Tired and ready for the trip back home I left Songkhran 2005 to pass from the day and into the pages of this blog and photo album that I posted here for you.
My thanks to everyone that has stuck it out to read these monster blogs I have written at just over 2005 words! I had in no way planned to write so much! I sincerely thank everyone for putting up with my indulgence. As I write more for Thai-Blogs.com each week I hope to sharpen my skills by saying more while typing less 🙂
Till next time,
Thank you Khun SamSingha for the great comment on Laung Por Sothorn. I cut and paste it here since what you wrote in Thai font cannot be unscrambled when you view them as comments but now everyone can read what you wrote. Enjoy 🙂
Hi again, Wit; 😎
The amulet you described with the name โสธร is of หลวงพ่อโสธร from
ฉะเชิงเทรา (Chachungsao) province.
หลวงพ่อโสธร is a very well respect and one of the most popular buddha
image in Thailand.
He is believe to be very, very holy. Thousand of people (I’m not
kidding here) go to the temple where หลวงพ่อ is daily to pay respect or to
ask for help.
Many believe that if you have problems you can pray to หลวงพ่อโสธร
and offer to give offering back if the wishes are fulfulled.
These offering include Thai dances, 1000 boiled eggs, etc.
Sorry I could not find an English site for you so here’s a Thai site