|Merit Making On Mother's Day In Isaan|
Yesterday, 12 August 2555, was Mother's Day here in Thailand. The day coincides with the birthday of the Queen who is considered to be the mother of the Thai people. The Thai people consider the holiday to be a very important celebration.
People travel from all over to return to their home in order to pay respect to their mother. Gifts are given to the mothers and just as important, children prostrate themselves in front of their mother and supplicate for her blessing for the upcoming year. This year Duang's son and his wife drove ten hours from their workplace in Rayong to Udonthani to be able to pay their respects to their mothers.
Although the holiday is on Sunday, the celebration actually starts on Friday. On Friday, school children invite their mother and grandmother to attend a party at their school. Food and drinks are served, entertainment is provided by the children, and speeches are given. Typically trees or flowers are also planted on the school grounds by the children and their mothers.
This year the Thai government provided 800,000 trees to be planted to honor the Queen's 80th birthday. The Queen is well known and honored for her contributions to sustainable development and conservation of Thailand's natural resources as well as reforestation efforts.
|Duang, Tey, Mai, and Peelawat Plant A Flower for Mother's Day 2010|
|Baan Tahsang Elementary School|
|Mai, Tay, and their Grandmother Crying At School Mother's Day Party|
Friday night, Duang's son and wife arrived from Rayong. They stopped at Tahsang Village on their way to Udonthani. Peelawat wanted to be with his Aunt and Uncle so they brought him to Udonthani. Saturday they took Duang clothes shopping for Mother's Day. Duang ended up with two pieces of silk from which she will sew some new outfits. Perk and Puii wanted to pay to have the cloth cut and sewn but Duang was happy to just have the cloth as a gift.
Peelawat spent the night with us and we had a very enjoyable time. He likes to look at my photographs of airplanes on the computer and I am teaching him how to use the mouse. Although he was determined to sleep with me Saturday night, Duang and he slept in one of the spare bedrooms. Sunday morning we had to be in Tahsang Village for a special merit making ritual at 7:00 A.M. I had set the alarm clock for 5:00 A.M. but there was no need for that - Peelawat was up and about at 4:55 A.M.
We arrived at the village just before 7:00 A.M. for the start of the merit making ritual at Duang's Aunt's house. The merit making ritual was to feed the local Monks from the two village Wats.
|Four of the Five Monks to be Fed|
As part of the merit making ritual, a bobbin of cotton string, very similar to what in the USA is called butcher's string - the string that you find binding a beef roast togetherwas rolled out and held by the Monks as they chanted. . This is very typical of the rituals, Buddhist as well as Animist, that I have observed here. Short lengths of the string are tied around the wrists of people during Baii Sii ceremonies for weddings, healing, exorcisms, bon voyages, and to honor esteemed guests. Longer and heavier lengths of the string are used in the funeral ritual. As part of the blessing ritual for vehicles, intermediate lengths and smaller bundles of the string are wrapped around the steering column to protect the operators and passengers of the vehicle from bad luck as well as harm. In some prayer rituals, single strands of the string descend from a grid of string above the worshipper with the free end coiled on top of the worshiper's head.
I am not an expert on the full meaning of the strings, but I have come to the conclusion that the string connects and facilitates communication from this world to the other world. In a certain way, the string also binds the people together, with each other as well as with the spirit world.
|A String Binds and Connects the Monks During the Ritual|
Duang's Aunt had called to ensure that we would be attending this ritual and that I would be photographing it. It was a given that we would be attending. Duang is very religious and I do not want to interfere with that. However, taking photographs did present a challenge. I started thinking and gave it some serious thought. I ended up using the camera the old fashioned way - "manual mode". I used a light meter to get the exposure, set the camera manually, and used a speedlite for fill in flash. It worked, It worked like it used to be in the old days. I had been reconnected to a camera that I had not successfully used in two years. I had reconnected to a technique that I can't recall having last used. These connections reaffirmed the adage that "you can't always get what you want but if you try you just may get what you need". Hmm ...sounds like that it would make a great song. Whoops ... Mick Jagger already wrote it. Once again the saying "Where there is a will, there is a way" proved to be prophetic and a lesson to never be forgotten.
|A Familiar Face?|
Sometime later, he went off and saw a special Monk to get help to stop drinking. I alluded to him in my first story about alcoholism cure here in Isaan, http://www.hale-worldphotography.blogspot.com/2009/01/24-august-2008-alcoholism-cure.html There was a remarkable transformation in him after he visited the Monk and took the cure. He became a very nice hard working person. I actually ended up liking and respecting him very much. He has been a subject of many of my photographs involving daily life here in Isaan. To this day, over three years later, he remains alcohol free.
Every Thai male 20 years or older is expected to be a Monk at some point in his life. It is believed that a boy can only become a man after serving as a Monk. Even the current King of Thailand spent time as a Monk.
Being ordained as a Monk earns great merit for a boy's mother and to a lesser extent for his father. The boy's mother gains more merit because the act of becoming a Monk is not available to women. The boy's father naturally had the opportunity to earn the merit by becoming a Monk himself when he was young.
Not all young men become Monks. There is a great deal of peer as well as societal pressure on the young man as well as his parents for a young man to become a Monk. So for a Thai man to not become a Monk at some point in his life is a bad reflection upon his parents as well as on him. Due to economic considerations, some young men do not become Monks. I suspect that may have been the case for Kwan's uncle. But at 46 years old and more importantly, while his mother is still alive, he became a Monk. I was excited and pleased to see him as a Monk.
Since he has been a Monk for just one week, he was not up to speed with all the aspects of the ritual. However the other Monks helped him out. After some words and encouragement, he got up to sprinkle water on the participants and home in a "blessing" ritual. In the blessing ritual which I have witnessed many times, a bundle of coarse reeds are dipped in a bowl of special water (holy water?) and flicked on the heads of people or walls of a home. For some reason, perhaps because they feel that I need more because of my size or faith, the Monks, wherever I go always seem to be able to sprinkle (drench?) me with more water than anyone else - much to every one's amusement and delight.
|Monk Blessing the People With Water|
After the Monks had finished eating, they left the home to return to their Wats. There was plenty of food leftover as well as food back in the kitchen so every one sat down to have a meal together. It is planned that way and also part of the ritual.
|Young Boy Praying As Directed by His Mother|
Last night, after Duang's son and his wife prostrated themselves on our living room floor in front of my wife seated on the couch and remained motionless as she gave them her blessing, I was so impressed with the order of Thai society. I posted a photo of mothers, grandmothers praying with a small child in their midst and wrote " Without mothers there would be no children. Without children there would be no mothers. We need to love and protect them both for without them there would be no life." Words for Mother's day and every other day of the year. Mothers are our connection to the world.