A typical crematorium in a Thai temple
I have been reading a book recently called “A Journey in Siam” which took place in 1863. It is written by Adolf Bastian and published by White Lotus. It is worth looking out for these white covered books as they are interesting contemporary accounts of life in Thailand over one hundred years ago. I find it fascinating how the experience of these early backpackers mirrors our own journeys today. However, these days we are more likely to travel by car rather than by boat or elephant.
Today I want to give you some extracts which deal with local customs and superstitions.
* The Siamese sleep with their head facing north and their feet pointing south, or with the head towards the east and their feet towards the west, because they believe if you sleep with your head towards the west, it may be ripped off by the wind and lost, when it must be replaced by an elephant’s head. According to the old ways of speaking, the north is hua non (pillow for the head) and the south pai tin (side of the feet). Because corpses are cremated with their heads facing west, living people must lay down their heads pointing east.
* The Siamese ward off accidents with offerings of rice, bananas and other food, to which have been added six saleung in coins. If people are frightened about bad omens resulting from an evil constellation of the moon, they give a basket made from banana leaves and filled with flowers and cakes and sprinkled with consecrated water, to the local magician, to have it placed on the surface of some water. When gamblers are out of luck, they say sia kroh (may bad luck go away). To ward of evil (kroh), a clicking noise is made by pressing one’s tongue against one’s palate.
* A person who causes damage is a khon abpri. It is abpri if the roof of a house near a monastery is pierced by a tree growing through it. Sadiet changrai are inauspicious things, for example, if somebody plants a bamboo upside down. The evil consequences of abpri changrai are counteracted by the siah kroh ceremony. If someone walks under a line, hung with items of women’s clothing, if they read the holy writings of Buddha on the lowest floor of a multi-story house, or in any other way violate the customs, they have not committed a sin, but a chang rai and they must ward off the threatening consequence by building a shrine for Phra Thorani, the guardian spirit of the earth.
* If somebody touches another person’s head with their feet, changrai will befall both of them unless they both build shrines to rebuild their integrity. The same happens if somebody walks over the body of someone higher in rank or if a woman places her hands on someone else’s head. But such trivial cases can be made good by sprinkling consecrated water (nam mon) on the head. If one touches the head of another person with a hoe, this is changrai. But if injury results, it is an instance of ubat, and that perpetrator must be give satisfaction by tham khuan. If a slave is insulted in this way by his master, he can claim his freedom.
hua non – หัวนอน
pai tin – ปลายตีน (blai dteen)
khon abpri – คนอับปรีย์ (khon up-bree)
Sadiet changrai – เสนียด จังไร (sa-niat jung-rai)
abpri changrai – อับปรีย์ จังไร (up bree jung-rai)
changrai – จังไร (jung-rai)
sia kroh – เสียเคราะห์ (sia kroh)
nam mon – น้ำมนต์
ubat – อุบัติ