One of the more traditional events that took place during Songkran recently was “song nam phra”. This is the practice of bathing Buddha images with rose scented water. Most tourists, and even some Thai teenagers, seem to think that Songkran is only about throwing water at each other. However, it was originally more a bathing of Buddha images and pouring water on the hands of monks and elders. The latter ceremony is called “rod nam dam hua”. Over the years people tend to spend more time playing water fights which is obviously more fun.
I took these pictures at Wat Chai Mongkol in Samut Prakan this afternoon during their annual “song nam phra” ceremony. People came to the temple in their best clothes with their families. They then prepared some rose scented water which they first poured onto a Buddha image. Next they walked down a line of seated monks and carefully poured some water onto their hands. Some people, who were a bit more familiar with the novice monks, poured some colder water down their necks.
Once the lay people had finished pouring water on the monks and novices, they then had some fun splashing water on each other. This is basically where the water fights started. In the old days, it was mainly restricted to the temples. Now it is on all the streets and no-one is safe from the roaming pick-up trucks armed to the teeth with barrels of water and powerful water guns. Wat Chai Mongkol had about 350 novice monks at the moment who ordained for the summer holidays.
I have uploaded more pictures to the Samut Prakan Photo Album.
One of the most important events in the Thai Buddhist calendar is Makha Bucha Day (sometimes spelled Magha Puja). It takes place on the full moon day of the third lunar month which is usually late February or early March. This year it was today, 28th February 2010. Like many Thai people, I was up early this morning before the sun rose to go and visit my local temple. I took my first picture at Wat Klang in Paknam shortly before 7 a.m. There was already hundreds of local people there making merit.
There were many food stalls outside the temple selling various food such as curries and Thai desserts. However, these weren’t for the lay people to buy to take home and eat. These were pre-cooked food to give to the monks in order to make merit. Strictly speaking, to make the most merit you need to prepare the food yourself, but who has time for that these days? After choosing the food that they wanted to offer, the vendor then worked out the cost.
Once they had bought a tray load of food, they then usually squatted down, held the tray up to the level of their forehead and then said a small prayer. There was also a small Buddha shrine there which people paid respect to. Next they then added the rice and bags of curries to a long line of alms bowls. The monks weren’t actually sitting there which always seems a bit strange to me. But, I guess the Thai people felt they were still making the merit.
I have been to a number of different temples on days like this one and it is quite often the same set-up. There is often a line of beggars or local poor people who are hoping that the Buddhists will also want to make merit by giving some spare change to them. Not everyone did this but considering there were hundreds of people at this one temple, they should have made some decent money. In addition, many temples often hand out excess food to poor people on days like this when they are overwhelmed.
Once the people had made merit they made their way to an open area in front of a long narrow platform. This is where the monks from the temple were sitting waiting to start the chanting. It was a good turnout this morning. Very impressive. The chanting went on for about an hour. There was also a sermon from the abbot. People also had an opportunity to make a personal offering of essential items or food to their favourite monk. Most people would then go home though others might stay the whole day and practice meditation.
In the late afternoon or evening, people headed back to their local temples for “wien tien” which is a kind of candlelight procession around the ordination hall or chedi. I decided to go to Wat Asokaram in Samut Prakan which is a very famous meditation temple in Thailand. Many people had been staying here over the long weekend. They wore white clothes and practised meditation. The real “wien tien” is with candles in the evening after the chanting which usually starts at about 7.30 p.m. But many people went earlier to walk around the temple three times in a clockwise direction.
I have posted many more pictures over at www.paknamphotos.com. I also posted live pictures today on my twitter account @RichardBarrow from each location.
The grounds of a Buddhist temple in Thailand have a variety of buildings of all shapes and sizes. At first glance their use might seem to be random. But, there is one building, called the “phra ubosot” which is not only the most sacred but also has distinguishing features that makes it easy to spot. Surrounding the consecrated area there is a boundary marked by eight stone slabs. In Thai these are called “sima” (see-maa) and are often leaf shaped. They can be found at the cardinal points of the compass.
What I didn’t realize before is that beneath these stone slabs there is a sacred stone ball called “luk nimit” in Thai. You don’t normally see them as they are usually buried. I took these pictures at the weekend at Wat Rat Niyom Tham in Amphoe Bang Phli, Samut Prakan. I was there to take pictures of the ceremony attended by the Samut Prakan Governor to consecrate a new “ubosot”. Local people were there to pray and also to place gold leaf on the stone balls. They would later be buried with the “sima” stone placed on top.
In addition to the eight balls surrounding the building, a ninth stone ball is buried inside and then the main Buddha image is placed on top. Lay people don’t normally use this building. There are other buildings, for example the “viharn” which also has a Buddha image. What makes the “ubosot” special as it is the only place where an ordination can take place. Hence it is sometimes called the “ordination hall”. Actually, the first part of the ordination can take place anywhere in the temple grounds. However, the last part can only take part in the “ubosot”.
You can see more pictures of this ceremony in our Samut Prakan Photo Album. I will also cross-post it in our Thai Buddhism blog where you will find more information about Buddhism in Thailand..
Traditionally, in Thailand, when a Buddhist dies, their body is cremated and then the bones and ashes are collected and are either kept at the temple or at home or sometimes both. However, there is a third option which is seemingly becoming more popular these days. It is called “loi angkarn” which means the floating or scattering of ashes over the water.
It is not really a Buddhist tradition as it has been adapted from Hinduism where they often scatter ashes in the Ganges River. Some Thai people believe that floating the ashes of their loved ones in a river or in the open sea will help wash away their sins but also help them go more smoothly up to heaven. It doesn’t matter where you do this, but if you are in the Bangkok and Samut Prakan area then an auspicious place is the mouth of the Chao Phraya River at Paknam where I live. There are at least half a dozen boats here that people can charter to take them from the city out into the Gulf of Thailand. It costs about 1,200 baht and for that you get the services of a captain and layman who will lead the ceremony. Some people also bring along a couple of monks.
There are a set number of rituals that have to be done in the correct order before the main ceremony. This includes paying respect to the guardian spirit of the boat and then later the god of the ocean and the goddess of water. The bones and ashes that were collected from the crematorium the day before were wrapped in a white cloth. Rose and flower petals were placed on top and also a jasmine garland. In this picture they are sprinkling scented water onto the ashes.
Next comes the prayers where the mourners request the spirits and gods to look after the deceased person. It is then time for the white cloth containing the ashes to be carefully dropped over the side. They don’t actually scatter the ashes, they just let the cloth float away and then sink. As they watch it go, they say their final farewells while at the same time scattering flower petals on the water.
If you are interested in Buddhism in Thailand, then you might like to visit our website at www.thaibuddhist.com.
Judging by these photos that I took early this morning, not everyone was nursing hangovers after welcoming in the New Year at midnight last night. Like thousands of other local people from Paknam, I was up early at 6 a.m. to head down to the City Pillar where the main road through town had been closed for a merit making ceremony. This is a traditional Thai way of bringing yourself good luck for the new year.
Exactly 99 monks from nine local temples were invited to attend the chanting and merit making. Tables had been lined up on both sides of the road and people came early with food and essential supplies to offer to the monks. After the chanting, the Governor of Samut Prakan then gave everyone a blessing for a prosperous new year. Then the 99 monks came out to receive the alms.
It was all over almost before it had started. Taking pictures of the mass alms giving is always a bit difficult. Apart from being so many people there, each monk had a helper who had to keep emptying the alms bowl by pouring the contents into a sack. They often walked in front of the monks that sometimes blocked our view. I took lots of pictures but I had to make sure that I got at least one good one of the Governor and his wife for the local newspaper. Visit our www.paknam.com website for more local news. I have also posted many more pictures and a video of this event.