Category Archives: Thai Culture

Phra Meru of HRH Princess Galyani

In memory of HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana Krom Luang Naradhiwas Rajnagarinda, an exhibition of her life has been set up at the site of the crematorium (Phra Meru) at Sanam Luang in Bangkok. The crematorium building is probably one of the most picturesque buildings in Bangkok built during this century. Though surprisingly, it is only a temporary building and it will soon be dismantled. If you are in Bangkok now, you have a unique opportunity to see the place where the cremation took place and learn a bit more about the background to the ceremony. The exhibition will run from now until 30th November 2008. Expect big crowds every day as many Thai people are interested to see this exquisite site. The following information is from the official website at www.princessgalyani.com. The pictures I took myself during my visit to Sanam Luang yesterday.

The royal crematorium for Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana is built in the form of a religious structure with a wooden top, facing the west. It is a crematorium in the shape of a four-sided castle, with modified corners, decorated at the top with a seven-tiered white umbrella of state. The structure measures 39 meters from the base to the top of the royal umbrella, 31.80 meters in width, and 39.80 meters in length, built of wood, with an inner steel structure, decorated in patterns with a special paper plated with metal and glazed in gold.

The base is in two levels, equipped with stairs on four sides. The first level, known as the undulating base, is decorated with the figures of heavenly beings in a kneeling position, holding Bangsaek (ceremonial fans made from cloth, leaf-shaped and embroidered with gold, with a handle) in their hands. Lamps are in the middle, decorated along the backrest of the undulating base. Inside are figures of heavenly beings standing and holding royal paraphernalia. The second level, called the crematorium base, is in a lion’s leg shape, with stairs leading up from the first level from all four directions.

At the center of the large central hall is the pyre for the setting up of the royal urn to be cremated. To the north of the pyre is the rail jutting out of the balcony as an inclined bridge for the moving of the royal urn from the Golden Palanquin with Three Poles into the crematorium. The crematorium is decorated with special paper on the inside and outside, with gold as the main tone, and supplemented by varied soft tones, befitting the tenderness and grace seen in the traits and behavior of Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana Krom Luang Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra.

Entry to the crematorium site is free. It is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Don’t forget to pick up a free brochure with a map and information of the buildings. If you wish to enter the crematorium or the building where the Royal Family made merit, you can expect to wait in queues for up to two hours or more. However, there are no queues to walk around the gardens and take pictures much the same as I have done here. There is parking at Sanam Luang but you are advised to take public transport. Sanam Luang is often used as a site for royal cremations. Tomorrow I will post some old black and white pictures at www.thai-blogs.com of the cremation ceremony of King Rama VIII.

Farewell to a Princess

The nation today bid farewell to the late Princess Galyani who was cremated in an elaborate ceremony this evening in Bangkok. Hundreds of thousands of people dressed in black witnessed this historical event at Sanam Luang. For people in the provinces who couldn’t make it to Bangkok, there were ceremonies that were synchronized with the events in Bangkok. These pictures were taken today at the city hall in Samut Prakan.

In this picture, the Governor of Samut Prakan Province is offering robes and basic essentials to senior monks. Our ceremony this afternoon started at 3 p.m. with chanting and a sermon. Then the thousands of people at the city hall watched live pictures from Bangkok of H.M. the King placing symbolic sandalwood flowers onto the funeral pyre.

Once the ceremony in Bangkok was over, then the Governor of Samut Prakan and the senior monk placed their own sandalwood flowers in front of a portrait of Princess Galyani.

Next came the turn of the monks followed closely by government officials. Everyone lined up in rows of ten and all moved forward row by row.

Behind them were the thousands of local people who patiently waited their turn to place sandalwood flowers at the shrine. In Bangkok and around the country, thousands of people were doing the exact same thing.

A few hours later, the remaining people were entertained with traditional Thai dancing and Khon performances. Similar events were also held in Bangkok.

At about 9.30 p.m. many people returned to the city hall to watch the actual cremation of the princess live on big screens. There was an absolute hush as H.M. The King lit the funeral pyre followed by senior members of the Royal family. Once this was over, the Governor of Samut Prakan then lit our own symbolic version of the funeral pyre while the cremation song was being played over loudspeakers.

Everyone who attended the funeral were given a booklet about the ceremony and the life of Princess Galyani . We have some English versions of this funeral souvenir which we will be giving away in an exclusive competition tomorrow on our forums over at www.ThailandQA.com.

Climbing the Greasy Pole

One of the most fun events I have watched at fairs in Thailand is the Climbing the Greasy Pole Competition. As the name suggest, you have to try and climb a pole that has been greased to reach your prize at the top. These photos were taken during the Buffalo Racing in Chonburi recently. But, you can see this competition at many other events too.

At various levels up the pole, there is some paper banknotes pinned to the bambool pole. Lower down there are only 50 baht and 100 baht notes. But, nearer the top there are 1,000 baht notes.

Some people chose to do this as part of a team which means you need to share the prize money. Others did it alone as in the guy in the pictures below. He managed to get the 100 baht note but failed to get the 500 baht note which was a bit higher. It was certainly fun watching them try to get to the top only to slide back down.

Thai Wedding Photos – The Wedding Reception

Weddings in Bangkok usually last all day. However, if you have received a wedding invitation, you are usually only expected to turn up for the wedding reception in the evening. I have already shown you pictures of the other two major ceremonies that took place earlier in the day. These were the Making Merit and Monk’s Blessing Ceremony and the Wedding Procession of the Sin Sod. Both of these usually take place at the bride’s family home. Usually only family and close friends attend these ceremonies. Then, in the evening, everyone is invited to a big meal at a local restaurant or hall.

For the evening session I dressed up a bit more smartly. During the day I wore a polo shirt but I changed to a traditional silk shirt in the evening. When you arrive, you will see a reception table near the entrance. Usually some beautiful young ladies are on duty here. They will ask you to sign a book where you can write some good wishes. They will then give you a small wedding souvenir. Usually nothing exciting but don’t refuse it. In Thailand, you don’t normally bring a present for the bride and groom. However, you can give some money. You put this in the same envelope that you received your invitation. This already has your name on it. On the reception table there is a box to place the envelope. You should put in at least 500 baht or more if you know them well. The money helps to pay for the wedding and also the meal you are about to eat. Before you go into the hall, you can have your picture taken with the bride and groom.

I was at the wedding reception to take pictures of people as they arrived. Quite a few people arrived late so we were stuck outside for nearly two hours. I thought I would then be able to get a bite to eat. But then the emcee invited the couple onto the stage with the parents for the speeches. Two senior guests were asked to give some words of wisdom and then make a toast for the couple. Then the emcee teased them by saying that they should kiss each other in front of everyone. But really they only did the traditional Thai “sniff kiss”. If it is your wedding day, make sure you don’t do anything x-rated on the stage!

As soon as the toast and speeches had finished it was time to have their pictures taken at every table. Unluckily for me, this wasn’t a small reception. I counted at least 40 Chinese-style dining tables. If we were lucky, people moved so that we could take pictures of everyone in one go. But many tables we had to take two pictures. It was nearly 9 p.m. by the time I had taken the last picture at the last table. I had been there since 5.30 p.m. and still hadn’t eaten. By this time, most of the food had gone and people were already starting to go home. So, I never did get a chance to eat any of the delicious food. I am not sure about the wedding couple, but it had been a very long day for me and I was very tired. But, you would think that now they would be happy as they were finally married. However, that wasn’t quite true. Although they were married in the eyes of their peers and elders from the community, they weren’t yet officially married. Really, to get married in Thailand, all you need to do is go down to the local district office, pay a fee and they will sign your certificate. People usually do this the next day or sometimes a few weeks or even months later. I know some couples who never never did get around to getting a wedding certificate.

Thai Wedding Photos – Making Merit
Thai Wedding Photos – The Procession and the Sin Sod

Related Blogs and Articles: Probably the most famous Thai Wedding on the Internet was of Thailand’s famous Internet teenager, Panrit “Gor” Daoruang. You can read all about his wedding and see the photos at thailandlife.com. About three years ago, I wrote a popular blog called How to Get Married Cheaply. It was a kind of mass wedding ceremony where a group of couples got married at the same time. Our Steve wrote about his own wedding in a blog called Getting Married……In Thailand and our resident Thai blogger, Oakmonster, writer about her Thai wedding in America in Temple of Love. Finally, if you are dating a Thai girl or boy, then you might find our Relationships Forum useful as it helps with cultural misunderstanding and procedures like meeting the family for the first time. You need to register to see this forum. It is quick and free to do so.

Thai Wedding Photos – The Procession and the Sin Sod

I was telling you before about the Thai wedding I recently attended. The first part of the ceremony was for Making Merit and the Blessing of the Monks. On the wedding invitation I received, the next event was scheduled to start at 9 a.m. This is the parade of the groom and his family and friends from his house to the house of the bride. Though typically, they normally start their parade just around the corner. This starts as soon as the monks have left as they no longer take part in the wedding ceremony. The procession is only for members of the groom’s family and friends. They are basically escorting him to the house of the bride’s parents where the elders will discuss the dowry payment. Leading the procession are a group of young ladies performing the ramwong dance. A lot of hand movements are typically used for this. Behind them are a traditional Thai band used for such processions – they have long drums and cymbals. Next comes the banana plants and sugar cane plants. After the ceremony has finished, the banana plants are planted in the garden. By the time the couple have children, the plant will be ready to provide food and nourishment for the baby. Taking up the rear are the people carrying the gifts and food for the family of the bride.

As the procession approaches the house, they see that their way is blocked by three gates which act like a kind of “toll-gate”. To pass them, the father of the groom has to negotiate the price of a safe passage. At each gate, usually made up from silver and gold coloured belts, the price of the toll becomes higher. As you can see from this picture, a female member of the bride’s family wants a higher price than the one offered. The father of the bride has to make sure that he has enough money envelopes to pay off all the female relatives standing at each gate. Eventually they arrive at the house. The gifts are brought into the front living room and the banana tree and sugar cane plant are left at the front door to provide their own symbolic doorway.

Inside the house, senior members of each family carefully inspect all the wedding gifts. The amount of the dowry, or sin sod in Thai, to be paid by the groom to the bride’s family, had been agreed upon several months before. They were now making sure everything is in order. The food is an offering to the dead ancestors. The ceremony tells them that the couple are intending to get married. Common offerings include banana, coconut, boiled rice, meat, alcohol and Thai sweets. The number of trays offered has to be an even number to represent the couple.

The money is laid out on a cloth. This is largely symbolic as it is often returned to the couple to use after the wedding has finished. But, traditionally, it is as seen as payment for the “mother’s milk”. Again it is for the ancestors to see that this marriage is legally binding. The amount of money offered has to be an even number. If the wife desserts her husband for a reason that is not valid, then he can claim it back. Next the bride and groom present each other with gold rings and necklaces. The senior relatives then bless the money and other gifts. In the picture above, you can see various kinds of leaves in the bowls. All of these have auspicious names. Such as “gold leaf” and “silver leaf” which will mean that they will have a prosperous life.

Next the relatives, in order of seniority, will come forward to bless the couple. They will tie the “sai sin” on the wrist of each couple. To do this properly, you need to stroke the wrist of each couple first and then tie the knot. You can say a blessing at the same time. They will then prostrate in front of you, unless of course you are a junior member of the family. If you have come to this part of the ceremony, then you will see that there is a bowl next to the couple which you use to make an offering. You put the money in the same envelope that you received your invitation. This is usually pink. It already has your name on the outside so there is no reason to write anything else. Most people give at least 500 baht. You can give more if you are close to the couple. Weddings are expensive so this money helps pay for it.

The main part of the wedding ceremony is the blessing of the couple with lustural water. For this wedding, this took place at about 10.30 a.m. or 90 minutes after the procession to the house. If you want to skip the earlier chanting and the negotiation of the sin sod, then just turn up late for this part. This is often done at the house, though some people arrange for this to take place at the wedding reception in the evening. The ceremony is presided over by a senior member of the family or an invited guest who knows the rituals. A kind of spell is incanted which bless their future together. Then the “twin crown”, called “mongkhon faet” in Thai, is placed on their heads at exactly the same time. This is similar to the “mongkhon” worn by Thai boxers during their blessing ceremony. However, this version comes as a pair as there is a thin thread connecting the two. The dots, using the white paste earlier blessed by the monks, are then put on the forehead of each couple.

Relatives and friends then line up to take turns blessing the couple. If you decide to attend this ceremony, then you will need to pay attention to see how it is performed. Notice that the bride is sitting on the groom’s left. So, you first bless the groom. There will be someone standing by the bowl who will fill the small conch with the blessed water. You will probably spot some of the “silver leaf” and “gold leaf” and even “love leaf” leaves floating in the water. Hold the conch in your right hand with the left hand supporting it. Then pour some water up and down of the outstretched hand of the groom. At the same time, say something like “may you always be happy and live a long life together”. Make sure that you don’t use up all the water as you need to repeat this ritual for the bride.

By the time the last person had blessed the couple and photos had been taken standing next to the bride and groom, more than four hours had passed. I am not sure about the happy couple, but I was certainly tired. I had just taken nearly 1,000 pictures during the morning. But, it is not over yet. The main wedding reception was scheduled for that evening. I will share with you pictures of that later.

There was actually one more ceremony that took place though I wasn’t invited. This is called the “arranging of the pillows” or “riang mon” in Thai. This takes place in the bedroom. The sin sod is placed on the bed together with the auspicious leaves. The bride and groom lie down on the bed with the sin sod between them. The bride to the left and the groom to the right. Someone who has been happily married for many years will then give instruction to the couple about how to lead a successful marriage. As this is a family website, I won’t go into details of some of the topics discussed.

Main sources of information:
Monks and Magic by B.J. Terwiel (White Lotus)
Essays on Thai Folklore by Phya Anuman Rajadhon

Related Blogs and Articles: Probably the most famous Thai Wedding on the Internet was of Thailand’s famous Internet teenager, Panrit “Gor” Daoruang. You can read all about his wedding and see the photos at thailandlife.com. About three years ago, I wrote a popular blog called How to Get Married Cheaply. It was a kind of mass wedding ceremony where a group of couples got married at the same time. Our Steve wrote about his own wedding in a blog called Getting Married……In Thailand and our resident Thai blogger, Oakmonster, writer about her Thai wedding in America in Temple of Love. Finally, if you are dating a Thai girl or boy, then you might find our Relationships Forum useful as it helps with cultural misunderstanding and procedures like meeting the family for the first time. You need to register to see this forum. It is quick and free to do so.