Friday, November 30, 2012

Bun Kaithin - Day 2

Tahsang Villager Places Sticky Rice Offering Into Monk's Bowl
Sunday, 25th November, was the day selected for Tahsang Villagers to celebrate Kaithina with the Monks at the "Outside" Wat.  The previous day, the villagers had celebrated the festival by making money trees to offer to the Monks in gratitude for all that they do.  Following the procession through the streets, 6 of 7, of the village, everyone returned to their homes for the night.  Some women prepared food to offer to the Monks the following morning as part of the daily merit making ritual.

Other women, such as my wife, chose to get up early on Sunday morning to prepare food for the Monks.  Duang woke up at 3:45 A.M. to prepare fresh food for our scheduled 6:00 A. M. departure for Tahsang Village.

We stopped at Duang's house in the village to pick up our Grandson, Peelawat, and my mother-in-law to drive out to the Wat.  Our truck was enlisted to transport many of the money trees, banana stalks, and decorations from the civic pavilion.

Villager's Offerings For the Monks
The partially completed Bot was decorated with the banana stalks, pennants, and colorful decorations.  The middle of the section where lay people participate in the ritual was filled with all the money tree as well as other offerings such as sahts (woven reed mats), mons (pillows), religious decorative bowls, artificial flowers, and handicrafts.

The religious celebration commenced as a typical merit making ritual where people make offerings to the Monks.  A Shaman leads the people in a ritual which offers the food to the Monks.  The ritual involves lighting of small candles, chanting, and presenting a small dish with the lit candles and some leaves to the Abbott of the Wat.  The Monks then perform their portion of the ritual by chanting.  One part of this ritual involves the lay people pouring water from a bottle or special metal container into a bowl as they and the Monks chant.  The water in the bowls is then carefully taken outside of the Wat and poured at the base of various plants or trees in another private ritual.

After that portion of the ritual was completed, the Monks ate while the lay people watched and prepared to eat after the Monks.  The Monks only take what they can eat,  After they have eaten, the remaining food is consumed by the lay people.  There is always a surplus of food.  On special days such as Sunday, there is a great deal of surplus of food as well as variety of food.  The eating of the surplus food sustains the very poor of the community.  My wife and her children were nourished by this arrangement many years ago.  The eating of the surplus of food also serves as an opportunity for the community to socialize. Each morning and especially on festival days, there is a sort of pot-luck meal for the people.

Nong, Peelawat, and Tey Playing in the Dirt
Nong of Tahsang Village On Ok Phansa Day - 30 Oct
After they finished eating, the Monks left the Bot.  The lay people took their time to eat their meal.  After finishing their meal, the people gathered up their money trees and other offerings.  They assembled outside near remnants of an earlier structure and chedi at the site.  By this time I had been surrounded by several of my little friends from the village.  My Grandson, Peelawat, likes to hang around me even though we can not talk about too much.  One of my new favorite models, Nong, likes to hang around with Peelawat , Tey and me.  She is 20 months old and likes to be one of the "guys".  Sometimes being one of the "guys" can be difficult and carries a price.  Last week Peelawat ran her over with his bicycle - not intentional but he was unable to stop in time or to avoid her.  Nong had a cut on her head and a scrape on her arm.  She has recovered fine and is back following Peelawat around, and doing whatever he or Tey does. Whenever I take a photograph, she runs up to me so that I can show her the result on the monitor.  The day before, she was seated in the back of a pick up truck.  I took her photograph and showed her.  She smiled and then pointed up in the sky and said something.  I looked and saw nothing.  She pointed again and repeated her words.  Again I was unable to see what she was trying to show me.  She insisted and repeated her gesture as well as words.  This time I tried very hard and saw a helium balloon floating away just about out of sight.  I have to admire and love the persistence of children!  I thanked her for sharing.

Villagers Assembling For A Procession Around the Wat
The villagers commenced their procession around the Wat.  I stayed ahead of them so that I could take photographs of the procession.  Peelawat stayed with me along with Tey and Nong.  The procession was lead by some men with long brooms, sweeping the ground ahead of the villagers.

As is the case in other religious processions, the people walked three  times around the remnants of the Wat.  They walked and danced to ethnic Lao music as the circumambulated the old chedi.  Everyone was smiling and very happy.

As the villagers were finishing up their third circuit of the chedi ruins, I broke off followed by 8 of the children.  I could not help but think of the story of the Pied Piper.  Anyhow, I removed my shoes and climbed the stairs to the area where the Buddha used to be kept, as I started up the stairs I looked back and motioned for the children to remove their shoes and sit down.

The Wrong Place At the Wrong Time
The Monks were inside the worship hall adjusting their clothing.  After awhile of taking photos, one of the Monks let me know that the ceremony was at the other hall.  I exited the hall and found all the children right where I had left them.  Together we all crossed the yard to the proper location much to the amusement of the assembled villagers.

Monks Commence Ritual to Accept Robes (Kaithin)
In the new Bot, there was a special ritual for the offering of the robes (Kaithin).  The Monks rather than the usual single line configuration, were set up in a semi-circle.  They all took turns chanting rather than the usual Abbott and one other Monk.  Chanting was first performed over the robes that were in a plastic shipping bag.  The robes were then removed from the bag, a braided gold colored belt was wrapped around the robes, and additional chanting was performed as Monks held on to the ends of the belt.

After the Monks had accepted the robes, the people took their money trees apart.  The process was done very deliberately and carefully - the bills all had to be facing in the same direction.  The  stack of bills were folded in half and secured with an elastic band.  The wad of cash was then placed into a plastic envelope and brought up to offer to the Monks.  The Monks gave special religious pennants to each family that donated.  The pennants are to bring good luck.  After all the offerings had been made to the Monks, the Monks passed out cardboard boxes that contained a religious statue for the people's home.

The offerings were counted and announced to the people - 109,127 Baht ($3,637 USD) which will be spent to finish the new Bot.

Once again I had the privilege to participate and document a unique event in the Lao Loum culture here in Isaan.  Be it a religious celebration, a funeral, a wedding, or the ordination of a Monk, the community bonds in Isaan are strong.  These bonds start developing at a very early age with babies and toddlers participating in all the rituals.  Some people would say that these are poor people but don't tell them that.  They think that it is all about being happy rather than what you have.  Personally I call the people very fortunate.

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