Daily Archives: September 13, 2005

Tadika-The Weekend Religious School For Muslims

Thailand is predominantly Buddhist, but its southernmost provinces are Muslim-dominated. There are about 6 million muslims in Thailand and the majority are concentrated in the provinces of Patani, Yala, Satun and Narathiwat. The others mostly reside in the central-southern provinces and the greater Bangkok area. Pattani province, once a semi-autonomous Malay-speaking sultanate, is the heartland of Muslim South Thailand. The Malays are not recent immigrants. Their descendants settled on this land centuries ago, yet most of them have never willingly assimilated and absorbed into the Thai-Buddhist mainstream.

The Malays in Southern Thailand, nearly all muslims, place a high value on social acceptance within their community. They live in close-knit communities called “kampung”. The original meaning of kampung was countryside or village but it is also often used to indicate the neighborhoods which stretch out in the back of the official roads, and maintain a village-like social structure.

Part of a kampung and a traditional Malay “long-leg” house

In Betong, there are religious schools called “Tadika” in the Malay kampungs. Other than going to the normal Thai school , Malay children also attend Tadika on Saturday and Sunday. In the Tadika, they learn Malay, Jawi, and other Islamic teachings from their religious teachers called ustaz(men) or ustazah(women).

We have learned that a common language is a bonding agent among people of different backgrounds. People sharing the same ethnic background tend to congregate but language often transcends ethnicity. People relate more by common language than by common physical makeup. According to a Malay friend of mine, in the Southern provinces with over 80% muslims, nearly all Malays are conversant in Thai. However, the Thai are rarely conversant in Malay, including those in the local administration.

Among Malays in the kampung, they usually speak their own language, Malay, with a Southern accent. What they speak are usually “bahasa kampung” (kampung language) and though many are conversant in Malay, a lot of them can’t read and write well, of which I am very much better :)!

Two of the Tadikas in Betong

Another Tadika and the beautiful Malay students

Land of Nagas – part 1.

I was born in the year of the dragon according to the Chinese calendar (considered to be the luckiest sign), and in addition, it was a Saturday too, so the Buddha posture relevant to my birthday is the one sitting under the protection of the Naga. It is only natural that I have always found dragons and the related serpents fascinating and awesome. Even ancient Hungarian folk tales feature a scary fire-spitting seven-headed dragon that must be overcome by the hero: I guess it must simply belong to the “common subconscious” of the human race that dragons and snakes are looked upon with a strange mixture of respect and fear.

My personal journey over the past couple of years involved a lot of fighting and reconciling with my personal dragons living within me, and working with Chinese mythology and preschool children helped a lot to traslate my unspoken fears into feelings that could be dealt with more easily. The Nagas in Chiang Mai also captured me – I have a Naga-collection, dozens of photos, unfortunately, not in digital form. I’ll make up for it next time I’m visiting the temples….

But here I am, digressing as usual…. initially, I set out to write a post on the topic of Nagas, not my personal experience….

As I started to collect legends and ideas from the net, I soon discovered that the topic was so huge and well-researched that it could easily provide material for a doctoral dissertation…. I have come across several comprehensive and professional sites, which I enjoyed browsing in the past two or three weeks, usually instead of a gruesome translation job, sure. This one is about Chinese dragons the wikipedia entry into European dragons has several good links, over here and an Asian summary

A Chinese dragon on a tombstone in Kenting, Taiwan

But let’s just focus on Thai / Isaan culture and its roots, to keep it relatively short, but just as interesting, hopefully.

The Lord Buddha and the Naga

As the Lord Buddha went about his mission preaching to his disciples and followers, Naga, the serpent king watched in fascination and soon aspired to be one of the disciples of the Lord Buddha.

Having the power to take any form, the Naga transformed itself into a human and mingled in the group of the disciples, listening to the sermons. Evetually, it was ordained as a monk. However, shortly afterwards, when the Naga went to sleep in a hut, it accidentally returned to the shape of a huge snake, scaring the other monks as they woke up in the middle of the night. The Lord Buddha summoned the Naga and told it he may not remain a monk, and the disappointed snake began to cry. So it was given the Five Precepts as the means to attaining a human existence in the next life when he can be a monk, and it was also forbidden from entering temples until then.

So in Buddhist temple architecture, the Naga is either depicted coiled around the outer walls of the temple or along the stairs leading to the entrance to the temple.

A temple in Chiang Mai (it is unbelievably hard to find decent photos of Chiang Mai just browsing the net….)

However, the Lord Buddha had elicited such devotion from the Naga that in spite of the ban from monkhood, it continued to keep its vigil over the Lord Buddha, protecting him from harm. The statue of the Lord Buddha seated on the body of a coiled serpent and sheltered from the rain by the seven hoods of the Naga is commonly featured in the Buddhist sculptures of Northeastern Thailand.

It is said that one day while the Lord Buddha was meditating, Mara, the Evil One wanted to distract his concentration by starting a storm. The Serpent King, emerged from the roots of the tree where Lord Buddha was seated to offer protection from the rains and floods.

I chose this unusual modern sculpture, in Sala Kaew Ku, Nong Khai, it really scares me, I tell you, just looking at the picture….

– to be continued –