In my last post Isaan – the Small Stories 8 HERE, I included a story about Thai forest wats. This post today takes you inside the walls of our local temple to join in a special festival to celebrate the end of Buddhist Lent. Because I am lazy I will just replicate the introduction I wrote previously for forest wats. Please skip if you have read this before:
There is also a subgroup of wats usually with “Pha” or “Pa” at the beginning of their name, which means forest in Thai. These are based on the Thai forest tradition, which is described as:
“The Thai Forest tradition is the branch of Theravada Buddhism in Thailand that most strictly holds the original monastic rules of discipline laid down by the Buddha. The Forest tradition also most strongly emphasizes meditative practice and the realization of enlightenment as the focus of monastic life. Forest monasteries are primarily oriented around practicing the Buddha’s path of contemplative insight, including living a life of discipline, renunciation, and meditation in order to fully realize the inner truth and peace taught by the Buddha.”
The reason they are called a forest wat can be easily shown. This is a Google image of Wat Pha Silawa, which is the temple we go to. That entire treed area is walled and the monk’s living quarters are scattered through the site giving them plenty of space and quiet for meditation and study. You can find more about the forest tradition HERE and HERE.
With the three month Buddhist Lent period, also called Vassa, finishing on the 27th October the restrictions on temple festivals and many other Thai social events such as weddings and monk ordination, has been lifted. Our social calendar has picked up with three temple festivals and a possible wedding happening in the next few weeks. The first of these was a big festival at Wat Pha Silawa shown above, which we support in a very minor way by joining in their evening programmes a couple of times a week.
The festival today at Wat Pha Silawa had a number of functions including celebrating the end of Lent, involving the community with the temple, raising money, sharing food and having fun of course. It kicked off at about 6 am as people from the local area and further away arrived and started to stock the food stalls that had already been erected in the trees. All the initial set-up had been done the day before and with maybe 1,000 people and 30 monks turning up there must have been plenty of planning and hard work involved.
Needless to say any social occasion in Thailand always revolves around the sharing of food and usually lots of it. In the case of temple festivals everything is donated by the community and you can eat and drink (non-alcoholic of course) as much as you want.
Food was also a central part of the monks morning as they are entirely reliant on daily donations, which are usually collected very early in a small procession that sweeps through the village. This tradition continues at these festivals except the quantity of food and drinks donated obviously far exceeds the monks needs. It is also a more formal event with the people lining a path within the temple rather than standing at the front of their houses as they would normally do.
You may have a problem playing this YouTube videos on an iPad. Try tapping on the far right side of the video image NOT the play button. Why? Who knows.
Four monks from the temple in our moo baan collecting donations from Gaun’s mama and a neighbour.
If you are in Thailand do make the effort to get up early one day, mix with the Thais in your area and watch the little ceremony that goes with the giving of food and the monks’ blessing in return. It is real Thailand in action and who knows when the western world will take over and this scene will fade from the culture. Take something to donate. You don’t have to be Buddhist to participate. Just do what the locals do and you’ll be fine.
About an hour after we arrived the collection ceremony got underway. The monks walked around the long line, barefoot and with the most senior monks in the front. There are a few photos in this section so I hope you don’t mind. I love the stark contrast in bright robes of the monks and the more muted colours of the lay-people. I also enjoy capturing the variety of faces too.
The donations are transferred from the larger collection bowls on the “frontline” to a couple of sorting areas located under the main building. Here school kids looking very formal in uniform, even though it was a Saturday, were making sense of the various types of food and drink.
The collection over and sorted the monks set themselves up in the main meeting hall and pick and choose what they want to add to their bowls to eat that morning. They can only eat between sunrise and midday. There was no shortage of things to choose from.
Meanwhile back downstairs the breakfast feast was really getting going and people were eating their own bodyweight in free food.
The only break in attention to food was when a samlor, a more substantial sidecar addition to a motorbike, which in this case usually sells liquid yogurt drink pulled up filled not with yogurt but balloons. The crowd both young and old went crazy!
I used the distraction to capture some great faces.
Back in the main hall a chanting session by the monks got underway post-breakfast. This was ignored by some but largely followed by the crowd, especially the older participants as you’d expect.
The other main purpose of the day was of course raising of money for the temple. In the forest wat tradition you never give money directly to a monk but either to an intermediary or place it in the collection safes you’ll find scattered around.
And the end result? 1,360,077 THB or around A$30,000. Not bad for a small Isaan village. Lots of merit gained today.
The final part of the morning and the conclusion of the festival was the distribution of all the excess food back to the village. People left well stocked up for family members who didn’t make it to the temple or just for the evening meal.
All those hanging contributions were “harvested” including by Gaun and Peng. We missed out on a watermelon Peng had her eye on. We will be more practised (quicker) next year!
Having got our free stuff we headed home past the popcorn and jelly dessert stand.
I found this a really enjoyable and interesting morning. I met lots of people I recognised from other occasions who came up to say hello, which is an indication that I am settling into this extended community as far as a farang can. The very vivid demonstration of the close connection between a temple and its “catchment” area was an eyeopener too. The involvement of other local forest wat abbots shows that events like this involve a more regional approach rather than each temple acting singularly.
We have two more temple festivals to attend. These are non-forest wats so are more rowdy in a Buddhist sort of way. Expect lots of music and dancing none of which happened here. No smoking allowed in the temple grounds either. I guess if you live in the middle of a forest that’s probably a sensible policy.
I will finish up with a few more photos just in case you haven’t seen enough. Nothing special just capturing some moments.
And finally I didn’t get a photo of Mark, the lovely young monk we met in Small Stories 8 HERE, who had very kindly done some translation work for me. We spotted him at today’s festival so he is now captured on “film”. Thanks again Mark.
Thanks for reading.