I was watching Ong Bak on dvd the other day (it only recently come out on dvd in the UK) and after watching the movie, I watched the behind the scenes stuff that you get with the dvd. In one segment, Tony Jaa was about to do a stunt. He was standing on a platform about three stories high, he looked straight ahead, put his hands together and bowed his head before doing multiple flips down to a lower platform and then another.

I was very touched seeing Jaa wai before he did the stunt. It reminded me of a lesson I had with my Thai music teacher many years ago. I was learning Thai classical music and my mother had arranged for me to have private lessons one summer to learn a very well known, but difficult and long, piece. On my first one-to-one lesson my teacher spent a long time telling me about how music is traditionally taught in Thailand. He told me about his old music teachers and what he gained from his relationships with them. He told me that everytime before I perform, I should put my hands together and pay respect to all of the teachers that came before him who have played a part in passing their art down to me. It was a very deep and spiritual lesson. Compare this to my first clarinet lesson which started with, “put the reed up against your bottom lip, rest your top teeth in the instrument and blow!” Of course, I don’t know if Tony Jaa was paying respect to his teachers or if he was praying please don’t let me fall and break my neck, but in any case I felt it nice to see such an endearing, and very Thai, ritual on screen.

Rituals are very common in Thai culture. Of course, like many cultures, Thai people have rituals to remember and honor their ancestors. But Thais have many other rituals, like building a spirit house and making offerings to appease the spirit that occupied the land where the home is built. I saw one ritual that I will never forget in 1995, when there was an eclipse in Thailand. Thai superstition, which I think comes from a hindu myth, says that eclipses are omens of evil. In order to ward off evil, my aunt and uncle prepared a table of eight black offerings (such as a black chicken, coffee, black rice…) and we burned black joss sticks. My aunt and uncle didn’t actually know how to perform the ritual; either they never saw an eclipse or they couldn’t remember. They had to read the instructions out of a newspaper on how to conduct the ritual.

In the west, a lot of people are sceptical of rituals and superstitions. My philosophy is that it doesn’t hurt to try and there’s a possibility that it might actually work, so I may as well try it. But also, I see things this way…there are a lot of forces beyond my control that have contributed to my current situation; they may be human, spiritual, or natural. As an American raised Thai, I do not understand all of the Thai rituals and the reasons behind them but they at least remind me that nothing should ever be taken for granted.

5 responses to “Rituals

  1. Being thankful and not to take things for granted are important part of learning process afterall learning is about mind training. Thanks for a good blog.

  2. I agree with you that it doesn’t hurt to try and there’s a possibility that it might actually work for doing some ritual as long as it is not harming other people/animals or breaking the laws.

  3. The real teaching behind this deeply meaningful act (the Wai) hit me one day when I was observing a Thai Muay Thai teacher in Toronto (http://www.houseofmuaythai.com/ajahn.html) who had taught all of his Canadian students to do the Wai so well that his students do it by reflex whenever they meet a Thai. These students of his had such a close relationship with their teacher to the point that they could not box well without his presence, so he exhausts himself travelling most of North America to be there for them so that they could win titles. With this simple ceremony, they are able to call all of the spirits of Thai boxing to support them in each fight or even simple Thai boxing demo.

    The Wai Kru ceremony is done for all kinds of learning. It is a strictly followed act in Thai Boxing, but it is also found in Thai Massage, Thai music and dance, Thai Khon Mask performance, and it is even a mass annual national event with the openings of schools.

    The real teaching behing the Wai and all these traditions behind Wai Kru ceremonies are about remembering relationships. A good Wai Kru ceremony takes your mindset and attitude across time and physical boundaries way back to the beginning of a tradition. The Thai Cosmos is built upon this deeply related world. It’s something that runs deeper than Buddhism. You see it in all of the spirit houses, and ribbons around trees, Loy Kratong festivals, etc, etc.

    A good Wai comes from the heart. What better forces and energies can one call forth than those from the heart?

    Thank you, Nal for your remembrance. 🙂

  4. Nal, nice one.

    Yep. I was taught to “wai” my Thai instrument, not only before I perform, but before I practice as well. (BTW – What do you play? I play ranaad ake, khim, and sau ou.)

    And La Nuit, that’s a great addition to Nal’s article. Wai Kru also extends to movie and television actors as well. You may see on Thai entertainment news that they held a wai kru ceremony before beginning productions.

    Growing up, we also have a wai kru ceremony mostly before huge performances. We even had one before we did the Nutcracker Ballet! But mostly, like a prayer huddle before putting on a show here in the US, some of us Thais would do a quicky wai kru huddle backstage, asking for the teachers of the arts to bless the performance.

  5. I play ranaad ake

    You do, Oakley? 🙂 Hehe, I see it somehow fitting, although it’s traditionally a ‘male’ instrument.

    Where did you study it? At a classic Thai music school? If so, could you please recommend one for me? I used to play a ranad-ek style instrument back in Europe, and I’m all right with the Thai version too. Now I’m looking for a good way to get back into practice, and also to learn some Thai songs especially suitable for ranad.

    However, all I could find is just the usual touristy cr@p… good ranad-song collections remain elusive despite months of searching.

    Any help is appreciated. 🙂