This sudden burst of blog activity is due to the deadline of friends arriving on the 24th to share Christmas with us and my 60th birthday the next day. We have had quite a socially active couple of weeks and I wanted to share some of the things we have been up to before being bogged down with eating, drinking and being nice to visitors 🙂
This post is based around the initiation ceremony for a new monk in the Buddhist tradition. It is a topic I have covered before HERE but each event has its own flavour and this one involved a Lam music band, which is very Isaan, so I thought it was worth an update.
As always Gaun, who spends most of her time at our house, somehow remains in touch with whatever is happening in the village. I included this Google image below previously in a post I wrote recently called “From Farm to Market” HERE and do so again. The reason is because it shows that we really are in the middle of a small village community, which sits outside the town of Si Bun Ruang, and our world is a pretty enclosed one.
At about 5.30 am many days the “mayor”of our moo ban (village) gets on the loud speakers and tells everyone what is going on – like it or not! It is one of the reasons I built a quiet house with double walls and glazing. Maybe Gaun picks up stuff from this or from the family but however she stays informed she knew that a monk initiation ceremony was about to happen. The invitation for us to attend came when the mother of the monk to be spoke to one of her neighbours who has land next to ours and she in turn yelled over the wall to Gaun. Formalities over we turned up yesterday to the final of the three days ceremony in the process of initiating a new monk.
For me one of the most interesting aspects is that this event is all about gaining merit under the Buddhist system of input = output, measured as your standing in the next life. The son of this family, where we sometimes buy fresh noodles, (you can read about Noodles and More HERE) was only going to be a monk for seven days! Considering the three days it takes to even get to the wat (temple) and the considerable cost to the family of providing unlimited food and drink to anyone who turns up for those three days you can see that this is all about gaining merit rather than gaining a greater understanding of Buddhist teachings.
The day for me started around 9.00 am but activities had been happening since about 6.00 am when the loud music started. Gaun had been involved way before I got going because under the village payback system she had obligations. The mother of the monk had been part of the cooking team that provided food for our wedding back in March 2014, which you can read about HERE. Gaun and her local family were therefore obligated (and willing) to complete the cycle and pay back that contribution. My Thai family have a wedding coming up in January and as there will be a lot of cooking required the call will go out and so it goes.
The monk has his head shaved this morning by members of his family and this is the main day for festivities and eating/drinking. The shaving bit was finished by the time we turned up so I can’t share that moment. We made our financial contribution to the event first thing, which was recorded under Tony Vansutha a mix of Gaun and my names, and sat down to a large meal that just appeared along with an almost endless procession of Chang beer. You sort of get used to beer for breakfast sometimes here and after the first couple of (shared) bottles the timescale really doesn’t matter any more.
I am not all that good with the full Isaan range of food, much of which is super hot way beyond my capacity to cope. The often strange, by western tastes, offerings is also a bit off putting sometimes. Today I was specially brought a couple of small crabs for my enjoyment a treat I had to decline. I am told that they are actually pretty tasteless and like so much in the Isaan diet end up being mushed up in some dish combined with vast quantities of chillies.
The final day of this three day event is when the monk is taken on a round of the moo ban accompanied by all the participants and watched by many of the villagers. According to Gaun at this point he is referred to as a “dragon” only becoming a monk once he gets accepted at the temple. The final destination of course is the wat where he is handed over to the monks for the final part of the ceremony. In all these processions, and I’ve done a few now, the front half seems to be the formal Buddhist bit while at the back the crowd plays up with drink and dancing to loud music. It’s like having a disco party at the back of the church while a mass is happening at the front!
This procession was different from any that I have participated in before in that the music, which is usually Isaan based blasted from a truck that travels behind the “rowdy” group at the back, was provided this time by a Lam band brought in from Mukdahan, a town maybe five hours away on the Mekong River. The name “Lam” as far as I can make out means “song” in Isaan, which is basically the Lao language and VERY different from Thai. The full name of Isaan music as sung is Morlum or Morlam “Mor” meaning “expert” (the singer) but today we were having a non-singing group so Gaun’s reference to them as a “Lam” band. If you are interested in exploring Isaan music try this link HERE or HERE.
The video below gives you a little glimpse of the style, which is pretty basic in line with its origins. What the video doesn’t capture to its fullest extent is the depth of the percussion, which is really very involving in real life and certainly gets the feet tapping. You will also get a glimpse of the “dragon” getting ready for his trip around the moo ban. Note if you are accessing this story on an iPad the play button on the video may not work. If you tap to the far right of the video picture frame it will start. Ah technology.
For some unknown reason donating a head pillow is part of this ceremony and they almost literally end up with a truckful. Who gets all of these?
As always one of my pleasures in this type of situation is to try and capture some of the faces:
This video captures the final moments of the ceremony as the crowd moves around the temple trying to collect a few good luck gifts in the process.
Another interesting and enjoyable day out after I had a short lie down recovery period.
Thanks for reading.