Monthly Archives: October 2009

Loy Krathong in October

Everyone knows about Loy Krathong that happens on the full moon in November. However, not many people know that we have another Loy Krathong in October. The phrase “loy krathong” means to float a bowl shaped container. It is not a festival like Christmas which celebrates a particular event. You can actually float a krathong at any time of the year. The annual event I went to last night was called “Loy Krathong Jay” and is part of the ten day Vegetarian Festival that we are having in Thailand at the moment. The ceremony started at Rong Jay, near Taiban Circle in Paknam, and then all the participants walked all the way down to the Chao Phraya River at the City Hall Plaza. They were accompanied with musical instruments for their fifteen minute walk through the town. This wasn’t the main parade for the festival and so I waited at the city hall for them to arrive.

There was a steady drizzle of rain as everyone huddled together on mats, sheltered by a scattering of umbrellas. A table was set up with candles and a food offering for the ancestors. Three monks led the chanting. The idea behind this ceremony is to change your misfortune and to float away your bad luck on the krathongs. But, this ceremony was also held to transfer this merit to the dead souls in the water and on earth. Each krathong had incense sticks which were lit before it was floated on the water. One horse-shaped krathong was also set on fire which is a common thing in Chinese ceremonies to pass merit onto dead ancestors.

The whole ceremony was over within 15 minutes. After the last krathong had been floated on the water, everyone then set off for the walk back to the Chinese temple. We are now more than half way through the Vegetarian Festival. There are more ceremonies to make merit for ancestors. On the last day, Tuesday 27th October 2009, there will be a big parade through the town. I will be bringing you pictures of this parade next week. Now it is time for me to go down to Racha Market to buy some vegetarian food. I am actually surviving quite well on this vegan diet. I am pretty confident that I can make it for the full ten days.

Read more at Samut Prakan Online News

Commemorating Chulalongkorn Day

Today marks the anniversary of the death of King Rama V who is regarded by many people as one of the most important monarchs in recent Thai history. Every year, on the 23rd October, Thai people remember him on this day which is known as Chulalongkorn Day or Piya Maharaj Day in Thai. King Rama V is credited with abolishing slavery and also pushing forward reforms that helped modernize the country.

Every city in the country has their own statue of King Rama V. On this day people gather at the statue to commemorate his life and also to lay a wreath at the foot of the statue. In Samut Prakan, I went to take pictures at three different locations around the province. This one is at Phra Chulachomklao Fort and is 4.3 meters high. It is the largest statue that I have seen and looks out over the Gulf of Thailand.

We started the day early this morning at the City Hall Plaza in Samut Prakan. It was raining hard when we left home at 6.30 a.m. but the clouds cleared and the rain stopped just as the ceremony was about to start. At the Plaza there were several hundred government officials. All of them, including the Governor, laid a wreath at the foot of the statue.

We next went to the nearby Naval Academy where they were also having a ceremony to lay a wreath. As you can see, many of them were quite beautiful. From here we went to Phra Chulachomklao Fort in the afternoon. Today is a public holiday in Thailand though for us it was a very busy day as we had five different events to cover for Samut Prakan News website. Other events included Looking Back to the Old Bangkok Exhibition at Ancient Siam and Feast for Dead Souls at Rong Jay Thong Siang.

Boat Parade on Gulf of Thailand

One of my favourite festivals in Thailand is undoubtedly Luang Phor Pan Worshipping Festival in Bang Bo District of Samut Prakan. I went last year for the first time and had no idea what to expect. There were so many surprises that I had a really great day. I went again this morning fearing that it wouldn’t be special any more. However, it still was as fantastic and intense as ever. The highlight of the day is the boat parade out into the Gulf of Thailand. Literally hundreds of boats of all shapes and sizes followed the vessel carrying the image of the revered monk Luang Phor Pan. Once out there we did a massive “wient tien” which involved going around in circles three times lasting about forty minutes.

Luang Phor Pan was a revered monk at Wat Mongkol Kothawas in Klong Dan Sub-District during the reign of King Rama V. He was famous for his meditation techniques. Although he died nearly 100 years ago, he is still worshipped by the local people. We had to get up very early this morning in order to get to the temple on time. We arrived there at about 6.30 a.m. thinking that we were early but it looked like many people had already been there a long time. Some were sitting on the temple floor praying and others were lighting joss sticks and sticking gold leaf on the images of the Buddha and the monk. The air was thick with smoke. Not long before 7 a.m., the sound of a Chinese Dragon dance signalled that the Governor of Samut Prakan had arrived.

There were brief speeches first by the City Mayor and then the Governor, a large gong was banged and the image of the monk was then carefully lifted aloft and carried out of the temple. The auspicious time was now 7.09 a.m. Outside were hundreds of people waiting to pay homage to the monk. The pallbearers almost had to fight their way through the crowd to the waiting boats on the nearby river. The Governor went onto a barge together with the image of Luang Phor Pan and nine monks. They would be chanting for most of the journey out into the Gulf of Thailand. The barge was pulled by another boat that was full of other people. As this pulled away to lead the parade, another large boat pulled in and I quickly jumped on board. It was an open-decked boat with no seating, no shelter and very low sides. We now set off to be part of the parade worshipping the revered image of the monk.

There were about five or six boats that left the temple. However, along the way there were dozens, if not hundreds, of other boats. Some only had half a dozen people on board while others had at least a hundred if not more. There were also people on the banks waving to us. We passed a fleet of fishing boats that were moored and off-loading their fish. A few of them also joined us for this merit-making water parade. By the time we reached the open sea twenty minutes later there was quite a large flotilla of boats. It was really an amazing sight and a wonderful atmosphere that is difficult to capture in still images. On my boat were the Chinese dragon dances so we were accompanied all the way by banging drums and crashing symbols. I shot some video of all of this which you will be able to watch on Paknam Video Blogs.

We went about three kilometres or so off-shore to a point where we started to do a large “wien tien” three times around an imaginary point. Everyone was following the barge carrying the image of Luang Phor Pan. Whilst this was going on, monks on that barge were chanting and consecrating sacred water which would be used later to bless the local people. We seemed to be going around in circles forever. I tried to count the boats taking part but I lost count after one hundred. There were also a dozen jet skis. About forty minutes later we had finished going around in circles. Then there was a mad scramble for each boat to get a small flag with an image of the monk and sacred writings. These were being handed out by the barge with the monk’s image. They used a long pole but still it was chaos as everyone wanted to get a flag for their boat. Luckily, even though we hit a few boats, there were no serious incidents and we soon headed back to shore.

We finally arrived back at the temple nearly two hours after the start of the festival. The time had gone quickly but I felt exhausted; as if I had already experience a full day. However, this was far from being the end. Waiting for us on the banks and along the road were literally thousands of people waiting to pay homage to the image of Luang Phor Pan. The image was carefully carried off the boat, through the crowd, and onto the back of a truck that had been beautifully decorated. The monks climbed up with it and then it set off for the next parade. This time, on land around the city. However, the way ahead was blocked by literally hundreds of motorcycles. I walked back up towards the main road where I discovered that there was a bottleneck where all the motorcyclists were waiting to receive little red or yellow flags much the same that was given to the boat captains. This was a kind of reward for taking part in the parade as they were handing them out to all the drivers.

I waited near Klong Dan Market for the parade to approach. The monks on the back of the truck were chanting and two monks on either side were sprinkling the local people with the sacred water that they had prepared earlier. Hundreds of people were lining each side of the narrow road to receive the blessing from the monks. Everyone was in a joyful mood and several people kept offering me food. Last year I just put it down to the local people being so friendly to strangers. However, I knew this year that this was a major part of the parade. The hundreds of pickup trucks and cars following on behind were handing out food and drinks to everyone who had just been blessed by the monks. Some people reached out their hands while others had baskets. People were handing out food cartons, ice cream, Thai desserts and drinks. It was really amazing the scale of generosity of the local people taking part in the parade.

The truck carrying the image had long since gone but the queue of vehicles stretched as far as the eye could see. A local told me that it would take more than one hour for the parade to pass their shop. From this Soi, the parade turned left onto Sukhumwit Road and headed towards the border with Chachoengsao Province. I didn’t follow it this year as I remembered how bad the traffic was. I also wisely parked my car on the main road pointing towards Samut Prakan. As I drove home, I kept spotting groups of people waiting with baskets ready to receive food and drinks from people taking part in the parade. It reminded me a little of Songkran with people driving up and down in pickup trucks. However, instead of throwing water at the local people, here they were handing out goodies to them. This was such a great thing to witness and to take part in. I didn’t stop to watch as I knew that the parade wouldn’t reach Samut Prakan City until nearly 2 p.m. and it would be getting on to 4 p.m. when it finally returned to the temple. But, I knew that hundreds of others would be following the truck.

We are posting news and information of all events and festivals in our province in advance over at the Samut Prakan Forums. Click here to see some more pictures of today’s event. We still have more to go this week which includes Loy Krathong Jay tonight and three Chulalongkorn Day ceremonies tomorrow. The Vegetarian Festival is still going strong and we will have the big Chinese Parade next Tuesday. So, plenty of pictures to share with you soon.

The Birthplace of King Bhumibol

(63 Longwood Avenue: the first home of Prince Bhumibhol, the future King of Thailand. Photo courtesy of KTBF)

Quite incredibly most Thais who I have ever spoken to haven’t known where the present king of Thailand, King Bhumibol Adulyadej was born. For some weird reason it isn’t part of Thailand’s education system to teach kids that King Bhumibol has been the only monarch to ever have been born in the United States – his elder brother, King Ananda, was born in Germany. Later growing up in Switzerland, the two brothers only ever spoke French to each other – again not the kinda thing the education authorities teach. No idea why.

(Photo courtesy of KTBF)

The American birth of a Thai king, all began with the rags to royalty fairytale-like story-come-true of a Thai-Chinese orphan called Sangwan, who would be later known as Princess Srinakharin (the Princess Mother). Even though Miss Sangwan only had a basic education, she won a scholarship from Queen Savang Vadhana to study nursing at Boston’s Simmons College in the US. And it was there that she was to go on the meet her future husband Prince Mahidol of Siam.

Prince Mahidol, the 69th son of King Chulalongkorn, growing up sixth in line to the throne was sent abroad at a young age, first England and then Germany, before he decided upon studying public health/medicine at Harvard University in 1916. Thus, making him the first Thai royal to ever study in the United States. It is recorded that Miss Sangwan and Prince Mahidol first met at South Station, Boston in 1918 where Mahidol had been sent to welcome Sangwan and other students off a train from San Francisco. Soon after, they were to engaged to be married, and were so, finally, in 1920.

(Mount Auburn Hospital: the actual birthplace of King Bhumibol. Photo courtesy of KTBF))

On arrival in Boston, Miss Sangwan first stayed at 44 Langdon Street which housed the Siamese Office of Educational Affairs, and other government offices including the Siamese Alliance (Siam Samakom) led by Prince Mahidol himself. It was the job of the Educational Affairs office to look after all the Thai students in the US.

After being married and receiving the royal title, Mom, Mom Sangwan moved from place to place, and lived with a variety of different people, both Thai and American. The royal couple ended up, however, residing on the first floor apartment of 63 Longwood Avenue, Brookline, Massachusetts (1926-1928). And it was, while there, that Prince Bhumibol was born at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge on 5 December 1927.

The King of Thailand Birthplace Foundation (KTBF) “preserves a piece of Thai history” with its Trail of Thai Royalty in Massachusetts, 1916-1928. The trail follows in the footsteps of the Princess Mother and Prince Mahidol, capturing their lives, homes and places where they and their children stayed during those years. The trail has been based on the research carried out by author Cholthanee Koerojna.

See more pics, and get more info on their website at: The King of Thailand Birthplace Foundation

Novice Monk Ordination for H.M. The King

During the school holidays in Thailand, it is common for Thai students to ordain as novice monks for a short time. In the olden days, before there were government schools, poor boys would ordain in order to get an education. However, these days, their parents want them to ordain for a short time during holidays in order to keep them out of trouble. They also have training in ethics and Buddhism which is good for them. At Wat Chai Mongkhol in Samut Prakan, over one hundred Thai boys recently ordained as novices to honour the 82nd Birthday of H.M. The King. They will be novices from 17th to 25th October 2009.

On the first day, the boys went to the temple with their parents and other family members. All of them were wearing white. The first important ceremony is the cutting of the hair. The first few snips are symbolic and are usually done by an elder member of the family or honoured guest. Here the abbot and local politician went around cutting a small piece of hair each. The other family members then took turns. Finally, all of the hair was shaved off including the eyebrows. Once this was completed, the boys took part in a parade through town to visit the city pillar. At the shrine they made an announcement to the spirits of the shrine that they were ordaining for H.M. The King. In this picture, you can see some of the boys carrying portraits of His Majesty. Others are holding yellow flags.

In Thai, novices are known as a “samanen” or just “nen” for short. A monk is called a “bhikkhu”. The main difference between a novice and a monk is that novices only have 10 precepts while monks have 227. If you are a male and are less than twenty years of age, then you cannot become a fully fledged monk. Everyone first ordains as a novice. The first part of the ordination procedure is called the “Going Forth in Homelessness”. This is where the candidate requests to become a novice. He is instructed about the Triple Gem (the Buddha, the Teaching, and the Community of Monks) and the purpose and benefits of the ordination. He is then told the five basic objects of meditation which are: hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth and skin.

The first half concludes when the shoulder cloth is put over the head of the boys. After this, all of the candidates are taken outside to change from their white clothes to their robes. These are not easy to put on. The boys certainly couldn’t do it themselves. As there were so many of them, they needed the help of monks and family members who may have once been monks themselves. The novices basically wear the same robes as monks, but they don’t put on the double-thickness robe. When you see the monks go out on the morning alms round it is easy to spot the novices as they have one shoulder uncovered. Novices and monks can only wear the orange robes. They are not allowed to wear vests or underwear.

Once they have the robes on, then all of them go back into the hall. They next request to take Refuge in the Triple Gem and the Ten Precepts. They say: “I go to the Buddha for refuge. I go to the Dhamma for refuge. I go to the Sangha for refuge.” This is then repeated three times. The abbot then tells them that they are now “samanen”. As a novice monk, they have to obey the ten precepts. This includes basic things like not stealing or lying and also not eating after noon. But they can drink liquids in the afternoon like milk.

At the end of the ceremony, the abbot reads the 10 precepts out in Pali which is the ancient language of the scriptures. The novices have to repeat them after him.

1. Refrain from killing living things.
2. Refrain from stealing.
3. Refrain from un-chastity (sensuality, sexuality, lust).
4. Refrain from lying.
5. Refrain from taking intoxicants.
6. Refrain from taking food at inappropriate times (after noon).
7. Refrain from singing, dancing, playing music or attending entertainment programs.
8. Refrain from wearing perfume, cosmetics and garland (decorative accessories).
9. Refrain from sitting on high chairs and sleeping on luxurious, soft beds.
10. Refrain from accepting money.

The new novice monks now prostrate three times and leaves the hall. We have posted more pictures over at the Samut Prakan Forums. You can read more stories about Buddhism in Thailand at our website.