A Thai Funeral


We came back from the beach in the early evening. Like any Thai event, the first thing that we were asked when we arrived was whether we had eaten yet. The truth is that we had eaten plenty on the beach all afternoon. But, these were only snacks and we still had some room for a proper meal with rice. A few minutes after we had finished eating, the chanting started in the main assembly hall and we went in to take some pictures. This went on like this for about an hour or so. There weren’t that many people here on the first day. Most people were coming down from Bangkok for the main event on the second day. Not everyone was wearing the black mourning clothes but rather normal clothes with muted colours.

After the chanting had finished, everyone filed outside for the fireworks. First a display was set alight which showed the name of the deceased. Then little fires beneath floating lanterns were lit so that they would float up and away into the sky. Then finally a fireworks show. Nothing too spectacular but a number of the local people had come to watch. That is the thing about funerals. There is always plenty of free entertainment, so it attracts crowds of people. It doesn’t really matter if they knew the family or not. There was already quite a few mobile food stalls and people were sitting down having a meal.

At funerals, the main entertainment is usually either a khon masked drama or a likay. At this one, we were entertained with a likay, which is a bit like an outdoor variety show. It has short sketches, singing and some banter between actors and audience. I have shown you pictures of this before. The people wear a lot of make-up and are dressed in these amazingly colourful costumes that sparkle. For events like funerals it doesn’t really matter if no-one comes to watch or not as it is really put on for the benefit of the deceased. But, on this night, a lot of local people came to watch the free show.


The majority of the mourners arrived the following morning from about 11 a.m. onwards. At about this time, there was another session of chanting and then the monks were given food to eat. Monks can never ask for, or prepare their own food. They cannot even store food for longer thana day. It always has to be offered to them by lay people. Once this was done, there was nothing for us to do again until the cremation ceremony in the late afternoon. So, we had some more free time. We decided to go back into Cha-am to do more sightseeing. I will tell you about this later.

By about 4 p.m., the main assembly hall was packed with people. There were even rows of seats outside. The ceremony started with a sermon from a monk. Once he had finished about 80 or so monks entered the hall. I had never seen so many. The person who had died must have either been well respected or very rich. The more monks that come to chant the more merit that is made for the deceased. But, it also costs a lot more. When they leave, each monk is given a white envelope with some money inside. They are also presented with some robes. Do you see the tape in the above photograph? I have never seen like this before. It was all rolled up in a contraption and then unrolled from one end to the other. Women are not usually allowed to present anything to monks directly. The monk would normally first put down a small piece of cloth for the woman to put the offering on. However, in this case, the robes were put on this tape. I think it is acting like the sai sin string where it becomes a collective offerring.


The next part of the ceremony was also very interesting. What happened was that family members and important dignitaries took turns in placing some robes on a pedestal in front of the coffin. A monk would then come up to receive these robes. I thought it was a way for the deceased person to make merit by giving robes to the monks. But, someone later told me that in the old days it was common practice for the monks to take the rags from dead bodies to make a robe. Although they no longer need to do this, it has now become an important part of the funeral ceremony.


When I didn’t realize at first was that the crematorium at this temple was actually attached to the main hall. In fact it is directly behind the display on the stage that you can see in my earlier photos. Also unknown to me, by this time the coffin had already been taken from the table behind the floral display and placed inside the oven. As soon as the robe giving part of the ceremony had finished, the senior dignitary came up on to the stage and lit a long flower made from wood shavings. He then put this into the oven. Then everyone else rushed to the stage where they were given a small flower also made from wood shavings, called dok mai jan, which they threw into the oven. I have never seen like this before. At other funerals I have been to, the dok mai jan is symbolically placed under the coffin as you file past. It is like you are adding fuel to the fire. But, in this case the fire (and probably the body) was already alight. As the people went down the steps on the other side they were given a small book which commemorated the life of the deceased. At other funerals you might be given a souvenir. At the same time as this was happening, three very loud rockets were shot up into the sky to signal the start of the cremation.

That was basically it. We returned home shortly afterwards. On the way back home, we stopped on the highway just before Phetchaburi in order to buy some of the famous Thai desserts for this area. The most famous of course is khanom mor gaeng which I told you about before. The traffic going back was pretty bad and it took nearly four hours to reach Samut Prakan. Two days later I set off on my trip to Chiang Mai in the north. That is where I am now writing this blog. I will be writing about this shortly.

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