Sunday, April 4, 2010

Giving Thanks for Granted Favors

Here in Isaan spirituality plays a very important role in the day to day activities and rituals of the Lao Loum people. Many of my blogs describe my experiences as well as observations contributable to the amalgamation of Buddhism, Hindu, and Animist beliefs here in Northeast Thailand. The life of the Lao Loum people is anchored and validated by their faith.

A big aspect of Lao Loum belief is requesting Divine intervention into their daily life. People make offerings and pray for favors such as obtaining money, getting a job, finding a spouse, recovery from physical ailments and all the other reasons that many people in other places in the world pray for. I have witnessed Go-Go girls making merit prior to performing on stage. Performers in my brother-in-law's Mahlam Lao shows make an offering prior to the start of their performance. In some entertainment venues, a wood or stone linga (phallus) is placed in a shrine area to solicit good luck and fortune for the business and workers. This object is part of a small shrine, generally ascribed to being Buddhist, at which incense is burned, candles are burned, soft drinks, glasses of water, shots of alcohol, and garlands are offered. It is somewhat complicated although the shrine is mostly attributed to Buddhism, in fact most of the elements as well as ritual is derived from prior Animist, Brahman, and Hindu beliefs.

The role of spirits in their daily life is often manifested to Lao Loum people in their dreams. Dreams and the interpretation of dreams is a serious concern to the inhabitants of Isaan. There is a government sponsored daily lottery in Thailand with many of the numbers selected by people being based upon their recent dreams. Often the interpretation of dreams leads people to pray to counter the dream's phophetized future. Often Monks are consulted to determine what the future may hold for an individual. Reading of palms, interpretation of wax drippings into water, consulting tables of numbers, card reading and shaking of numbered strips of bamboo or plastic to obtain a prediction of the future, are all utilized to help provide direction and assurance to one's present life. As a Westerner, I find this interesting but not very plausible. As a person who has lived here for approximately four years and with intimate knowledge of some specific predictions, I still don't believe in the process but I am respectful of the beliefs.

All this leads us to our task for 01 April here in Udonthani. A year ago on a rainy night in June, Duang and I went to a special shrine here in Udonthani. The shrine is located at the north end of city center at the boudary of Nong Prajak Park. The shrine is dedicated to the the founder of Udonthani, Prince Prajak. It is a very popular shrine for the local people. There are hundreds if not thousands, of animal statues placed at the shrine in appreciation for answered prayers. Other offerings such a coconuts, food, soft drinks, along with garlands are also widely spread around the small shrine. I was leaving for the United States the next day to attend my divorce hearing. At the time, I thought that the purpose of the visit and the offerings was to seek good luck and safety on my journey. On 31 of March, Duang had a dream related to her incantations of that evening. When she awoke on April 1, she realized that her prayer that I would choose return to her and remain in Thailand had been granted but that she had not made an offering in recognition and thanksgiving.

We went to a specialty shop that sells concrete animals and figurines for the purposes of making offerings at shrines. Duang purchased an elephant and a zebra as well as a couple of human figurines. The elephant and the zebra were each about two feet long and one foot high. The cost was roughly $15 USD total. I am somewhat familiar with the idea behind offering a statue of an elephant. The elephant is a sacred symbol in Thailand with origins for this going back to Brahman and Hindu beliefs. I am at a loss to explain the significance in offering a zebra statue. At the shrine there are also many horse statues for which I also can not explain either the significance or reason.

Duang and her brother made the offering while I kept busy taking some photographs.

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