Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tamboon Roi Wan

Family Members Launching Khom Fai - Fire Lanterns
This week has been very busy for us with a combination of personal, religious, family, and cultural activities.

Saturday night, the 27th, we attended a Tamboon Roi Wan Party that my wife's youngest brother was performing at in a small village northeast of our home in Udonthani.

It had been 100 days from the funeral of a man and in the Lao Loum culture time for a unique ritual called "Tamboon Roi Wan" sometimes referred to as "Bone Party".  Duang's brother had been contracted to provide the entertainment on the final night of the two day event.

"Tamboon Roi Wan" is the funeral anniversary party. Tamboon Roi Wan is a merit making ritual that is held 100 days after the cremation of the body.  If for some reason, typically financial, that the ritual can not be held 100 days after the cremation, the ritual can be held at a later date and is called "Tamboon Jaak Khao". Whether 100 days or many years after the cremation, the ritual is identical and the merit is the same.

The two day ritual is a time for family, friends, and neighbors to eat, drink, socialize, and participate in religious ritual.  It is a grand party. Previously these two day events also had a great deal of gambling.  However since the latest military coup, there has been a crackdown on gambling.  Gambling, other than the national lottery, has long been illegal in Thailand. Local law enforcement officials used to turn a blind eye to family gambling during funerals and tamboon roi wan events.  For gambling at other times, "accommodations" had to be arranged to avoid being arrested.  Local officials no longer have that "flexibility".

The first day of Tamboon Roi Wan or Tamboon Jaak Khao is spent eating and drinking.  The host family has the responsibility of feeding and supplying drinks to all the guests.  Pavilions are set up in the front yard or if there is insufficient room in the yard, pavilions are set up in the street in front of the home.  Round tables covered with fabric and rented plastic chairs are set up underneath the pavilions. Bottles of beer, whiskey, drinking water, and soft drinks along with a small metal bucket of ice are placed on each table.

The first day of the ritual in addition to eating, drinking and gambling is spent in decorating the main pavilion as well as constructing Ban Phii (spirit houses) for the deceased person.  In the main pavilion where the ritual takes place, a raised  platform is placed.  The Ban Phii is placed on the platform.  In front of the Ban Phii a large photo of the deceased person is placed.  Food offerings and glasses of drink are also placed in front of the photograph.  Stalks of bananas are typically hung from the pavilion framing.  Offerings to be made to the Monks at the conclusion of the ritual are displayed around the Ban Phii.  The offerings typically include nested metal food containers, toiletries for the Monks, towels, electric fans, religious decorations, blankets, small square pillows (mons), woven reed mats (sahts).
The special merit making ritual involving Monks, for this week's tamboon roi wan ended around 6:30 P.M. when the people returned to socializing, and drinking followed by a catered formal meal.  The caterer had set up a field kitchen in the street outside of the deceased person's home.

From our arrival at 5:00 P.M. until the start of the night's entertainment starting at 7:00 P.M., several men were feverishly setting up the stage, installing the lighting for the show, and setting up the sound system.  Backstage, the performers were occupied putting on their makeup and costumes.

As is typical when hiring entertainers, the host is responsible for feeding and providing drinks to the performers, roadies, and groupies such as Duang and me.  The hosts provide the same food to the "hired" help as they do to their guests.  Hosts are very accepting of our presence and show genuine concern that we have plenty to eat and drink.  We drink water or coke since I have to drive home from these events.  Here in Thailand there are unannounced roadblocks at night to check for DUIs.  I don't want that hanging over my head - besides I am a guest here and I do not want to give anyone an excuse to throw me out of the country.

At 8:00 P.M. the next element of the "Bone Party" commenced.  Duang's brother had been hired to put on one of his "Molam Lao" shows.  The show was scheduled to run until around 3:00 A.M. but we left at 10:00 P.M. because we had our 5 year old grandson with us and a busy day planned for the next day.

The entertainment commenced with classic ethnic dancing performed by two young women.  The women wore traditional Lao Loum clothing for their dances.  Here in southeast Asia the various minorities retain their unique clothing as well as dance.  You know what ethnic group, an individual, especially a woman, belongs to by their clothing.  The various minorities also retain their unique music and dance.  Children are taught to perform to their music in schools.  Entertainment troupes are formed in high schools and universities to continue and celebrate their cultures.  These troupes perform at cultural events as well as at private functions such as weddings, retirement parties and religious festivals.  These performances are an aspect of life here that I really appreciate and enjoy.
Young Woman Performing A Traditional Isaan Dance
The two young women performed three distinctive dances with one single change of costume.
Traditional Dance Hand Gesture
Following the dance performance, my brother-in-law's show started.  Shows for Tamboon Roi Wan parties start with what I call "respect to the past and elders".  This portion of the show involves the playing and singing traditional Lao music.  The traditional Lao musical instrument, the khene, sets the rhythm and melody for the singing.  The singing is free verse, with the singer making up the lyrics, appropriate lyrics for the specific event, as they go alone.  The singing style from event to event is standardized but the lyrics are determined at the moment by the performer.  The performer is evaluated just as much for their selection of words as how well they sing them.
Khene Player and Singer Performing
 Duang's father was a singer and well known in the area.  The man performing at this party was her father's first student.  I know that Duang was pleased, "happy inside", to see a link to her father continuing on with his tradition and celebration of their shared culture.

After the men had finished their set, there was an event that I had not anticipated or observed at previous bone parties.  Several members of the deceased man's family gathered off to the side of the stage to launch khom fai - fire lanterns.  Khom Fai are large special paper bags that have a large candle suspended below their open end.  The candles are ignited and as they burn, the interior is filled with soft glowing light and hot air.  The hot air fills the bag, and because the hot air is less dense than the surrounding atmosphere, the khom fai gently rises into the night sky, rising ever higher as the candle continues burning - the flight of the fire lantern determined by the ever shifting night breezes.

As the last of the Kohm Fai rose and disappeared into the dark sky, the next part of the show commenced.  This portion of the show involved electrified instruments - keyboard, bass guitar, lead guitar, khene, and drum set.  The music is updated and modern Isaan music - driving beats, rapid tempo, and elaborate guitar rifts.  The genre of music is referred to as "Malam Sing"

Malam Sing also involves Go-Go dancers with all the moves from the 60s and quite a few that we were too shy to perform back in the 60s or should not do now that we are in our 60's!  I love this spectacles - every time I attend one I think about the USO show scene from the film "Apocalypse Now"
The show is more than just go-go dancing, singing, and playing instruments.  The show involves a great deal of drama, and humor - much of it bawdy as well as risqué.

When a singer is ready to perform their first song, it is not a simple matter of climbing the three rung ladder from the ground to the top of the performing stage.  It is more complicated and theatrical entrance.  The first song is typically a slow melancholy type song.  Standing either underneath the stage or off to the side on the ground out of sight of the audience, the performer will sing about 50% of the song before appearing before the crowd.  As they are singing, the performer will give a wai, the Thai greeting and gesture of respect, to the audience.

During their performance on stage, people will approach the stage to give the performers money, garlands of flowers, to touch their hand, to flirt or to give them their cell phone number.  The performers work this drama into their act ... acknowledging and thanking the people as well as making some jokes about the ubiquitous drunks that make a spectacle of themselves.  The audience loves the give and take with the performers.  They especially enjoy the flirting and overt sexual overtures between the performers - typically between the lead male singer, female lead singer, go-go girls, and khene player - but all combinations and permutations are exploited to the delight of the crowd.

I have written that some of the best parties that I have attended have been bone parties.  It is completely different from my experiences back in America but to paraphrase Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz .. "Toto, I have a feeling that we are not in America anymore"- many times that is not such a bad thing.  Living here in Isaan is always interesting to say the least.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Precious Lotus

A Lotus In Bloom - Pattaya, Thailand
The lotus flower, Nelumbo nucifera, is a very beautiful flower found throughout Thailand.  It comes in various colors such as white, blue, purple, pink, and red.

The seeds of the seed head, upper right hand corner of the above photograph are eaten raw or combined with sugar to form a paste that is used as the filling of various ethnic pastries.  I have enjoyed eating both the raw beans and the lotus paste filled pastries.  Other parts of the lotus plant, such as the roots, flowers, young leaves, and stems are also edible.  On our trip in January to Thale Bua Daeng (Red Lotus Sea) we purchased some treats made from the root of a similar water plant.

The lotus is an amazing plant.  It grows in the muck of ponds, lakes, and ditches.  Its roots are in the mud and muck of stagnant shallow water retention areas - murky turbid regions inhabited by leaches, amoebas, bacteria, and most likely some snakes. It grows in places that are not attractive to most people - which includes me.

A lotus plant can live for over one thousand years.  An over one thousand year old lotus seed was successfully germinated in 1994.

During roughly a week, the lotus flower blooms during the day above the water's surface.  As night approaches, the blossom folds back up into the flower bud and slip beneath the water's surface only to arise again in the morning.

Now that we are approaching the end of our rainy season, there are more and more stands along the roadside selling the dried seed heads.  The countless stagnant water features are now filled up with giant lotus leaves either floating on the surface with flowers about a foot above the water. Early in the morning the flowers set forth from the large buds,  The leaves are large - roughly two feet in diameter (60 cm).  The flowers are supported above the leaves on a thick stem.

Preparing Lotus Flower Offerings
The lotus has very significant symbolism in Buddhism.  It is one of the "Eight Auspicious Symbols" Every important Buddhist deity (god) is associated with the lotus - sitting on it, holding it, or each leg standing upon separate flowers.

The lotus springing forth from the mud represents purity of the body, speech, and mind - rising up from materialism, through the depths of experience, to bloom in the sunshine of enlightenment.  The two stages of the lotus flower are also symbolic of the stages of enlightenment - the tight flower bud symbolizing the time before person found Buddha or attained enlightenment with the full blossom symbolizing complete enlightenment and self-awareness.

There is a high demand and market for lotus flower buds.  There are farms that grow lotus to meet the need for fresh buds as well as people who harvest the buds that grow wild.

In March, during our trip to the Wat Suwannaram area, west of Bangkok, we visited a lotus farm.  We accessed the lotus farm by boat tour of the canals but could also had visited the farm by motor vehicle.  We were fortunate to arrive just as the workers were offloading their harvest at the land facility.

Female Worker Offloading Harvest of Lotus Buds
After slogging through the shallow muddy waters of the farm, the workers harvest the buds by cutting the stems about two feet below the water's surface.  The long stemmed buds along with lotus leaves which are also harvested for market, are then carefully placed in a flat bottomed wood boat that accompanies the workers.  The price paid by the agents for the markets is determined by the size, color, and condition of the buds and leaves at the nearby processing area of the farm.

A Second Female Worker Offloads the Harvest
The leaves and buds are carried up the banks of the flooded area and carried to the adjacent processing area.

Rinsed and Stacked Lotus Buds
In the processing area, actually a covered portico of the farm owner's home, the lotus buds are inspected, rinsed, and stacked by color and size to await the arrival of wholesalers later in the day.

Lotus Harvester
Having waded through murky waist deep water harvesting the lotus buds along with leaves, and hauling them to the farm house, the workers were covered with mud and perhaps with leaches.  Since the canal that we traveled on to the farm was relatively clean, the workers washed themselves prior to donning dry clothes to have their meal in the farm house.

Cleaning Up After Work
Duang Prepares A Bud For Offering
Duang and our boat driver showed me how the lotus buds are prepared to be offerings.  The petals are carefully peeled back from the tip of the bud.  Each petal is folded over and tucked into its base to expose the interior of the blossom.  This process continues until three rows are formed - three symbolizing the three gems of Buddhism - Buddha, Dhamma (The Teachings of Buddha), and the Sanga (Buddhist religious community).

Lotus Offering
During the special ritual for the dedication of the new statue for the "Outside" Wat for Tahsang Village, lotus buds were offerings at all three shrines as well as lotus petals were sprinkled upon the statues, roads, and devotees.  A special ritual apparently requires special offerings - a precious offering of precious lotus flowers -powerful and strong symbols of Buddhism.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Life is suffering ...some people suffer much more than others.


Luang Por Pohm Likit Administering to the Afflicted

Today I did not have anything specifically planned other than to bake two banana breads and to continue editing recent photographs.  Early this morning my wife, Duangchan, informed me that she was going out to Baan Mat to make merit by offering food to the forest Monk, Luang Por Pohm Likit.  After he had completed his meal, she was going to go with him as he went to bring food to an old woman who had no legs and was very poor.  She asked if I wanted to go and I declined.  She then called our friend to pick her up on her way to the Wat.

It could not have been more than twenty minutes later when Duang received a phone call.  It was Luang Por Pohm Likit inviting me to accompany him on his visit and to take photographs. He wanted me to take pictures that I could put on the Internet.  I gratefully accepted his invitation.  Duang and I drove out to participate in the daily merit making ritual of offering the Monks food for their only meal of the day.  Monks?  Yes.  A young poor local boy has left his home and become a semana (novice Monk) with Lunag Por Pohm Likit.  The Sanga (Buddhist religious community) even today offers refuge and education for poor boys.

After the morning ritual, Luang Por Pohm Likit joined us in our pickup truck for the drive out to the small village where the woman lives.  Two other vehicles filled with people from Baan Mat followed us.  We stopped at a market, a series of booths in a field, along the way.  Luang Por Pohm Likit went to buy two bags of rice. Duang compassionately paid for the rice rather than having the Monk do it.  One of the things that first impressed me about her was her devotion to her beliefs and her compassion for others.  She remains consistent and committed to both to this day

We headed north on Hwy 2 headed for the border town of Nong Khai situated on the mighty Mekong River.  We took a left hand turn on to Hwy 2021 and shortly afterwards a right to the small village.

I was shocked upon arrival in the village.  The narrow streets were made even more narrow by parked vehicles through the village.  The streets were also filled with people.  When we drove past the local Wat, there was a stage, music, people singing, and many women dressed up in fancy local ethnic clothing.

I started to think that this old woman was a very special person.

This was Luang Por Pohm Likit's third visit to the woman.  One day, two years ago, when he was meditating, he had a vision of a very poor young woman who could not walk and needed help.  He did not now who the woman was or where she lived.  He told people of his vision.

Here in Isaan dreams and visions are very important as well as powerful omens - communications from the spirits. They also link us to other worlds.  Some people from Baan Dum Nam Muang heard of Luang Por Pohm Likit's vision and told him that they knew of such a person.  They brought him to the village to meet the young woman.

Young woman?  What about the old lady without any legs?  Well sometimes, perhaps many times, things get lost in translation around here.  At times this can be frustrating to me; having worked as an engineer for 36 years, but it does make life interesting all the time.  Duang had gotten the story mixed up.

We came upon the home, I dropped the Monk off in front of the house where the other members of our group had already seated themselves on sahts, woven reed mats.  After parking a little further down the street, we walked back to the house, me carrying a bag of rice on each shoulder and Duang carrying my backpack of camera gear.

Still expecting to see an old lady without any legs, I was shocked, when after setting up my camera I entered the home, to find Luang Por Pohm Likit at the bedside of a beautiful young woman who had legs.

After asking Duang several questions which  she had to translate back and forth, I learned that the beautiful woman that I was photographing was 30 years old, a mother of two boys, and a shooting victim.

Five and one-half years ago she attended a large Morlam show with her female friend. Both of them ended up being shot that night.  Both women were paralyzed.  Duang told me that the woman's friend could afford a 200,000 Baht operation and can now walk.  This woman, whom we were visiting, is too poor for such an operation.  I told Duang that perhaps the other woman was not as severely injured as this woman and that after 5 and one-half years I did not think that any operation would allow her to walk again.

I have written several times about attending these shows and leaving when the first fight broke out.  We have attended many of these shows over the past 6 years, and it has been only two or three times when there has not been violence - typically alcohol fueled machismo or lady-boy fistfights.  At one show the police had confiscated two hand guns and at one show, as we were leaving, we came upon a group of young men who appeared to be hiding a weapon.  A couple years ago, two hand grenades were tossed at a show killing a couple of people.  When captured, the perpetrators apologized and explained that they were throwing the grenades at some rivals and did not intend to kill the victims.

There is no real social safety net or welfare here in Thailand.  The woman receives 500 Baht a month (the current minimum wage for one day's labor) from the government - in a region where the 20 kilograms that we brought costs 640 Baht.  The young woman was catheterized with her urine being collected in a plastic bag attached to the bottom of her hospital bed located in the front room of the house. Medical supplies were located across the narrow aisle of the small room.  I learned from Duang that the woman receives free medical supplies from the local small hospital. Assistance, and support, when necessary, comes from one's family and community.

I learned that the paralyzed woman is cared for by her sister who owned the house.  I was very impressed with the care that the woman had received.  The woman was clean, dressed very nicely, had no odors from the catheterization and the bed linens were also fresh.  These were poor people but they maintained their dignity and personal appearance despite many challenges. Sometimes I describe my wife as a survivor.  I suspect that most people here in Isaan are survivors - people were persevere despite many challenges and willing to do what is necessary to move on with their lives.  Upon leaving the home, I made sure that Duang told the caregiver how I was impressed with the good job that she was doing.

The paralyzed woman had a husband but he left to be with his girlfriend three years ago.  He contributes nothing to support his wife or children,  He does not even visit them.  The woman and the children live with her sister and her father.  They get some support from their family and neighbors.

Luang Por Pohm Likit is a special Monk in my opinion.  He went in and spoke to the young woman.  He reached into his Monk's bag and pulled out a wad of money and gave it to her.  I have written many times about the way things are supposed to be and the way they actually are.  This was just such an example.  Monks are not supposed to have money.  Monks are not even supposed to touch money.  People offer money and money is collected many times during the year to support the Wat - i.e. water, electricity, and maintenance.  Money is also offered to the Monks during funeral rituals, Monk ordinations, as well as for the blessing of motor vehicles and motorbikes.  Monks, as best I have observed, do not go about and initiate works of charity.  I confirmed this with my wife.  However you can go to the temples and eat the food that the Monks have not chosen for their meal of the day.  If you are a young boy you can enter the Wat, become a novice Monk and be given shelter, and an education.  At some Wats. if you are poor, you can go to the Wats and buy donated rice at a lower price. Note that in the above instances it is the responsibility of the individual to go to the Monks. Luang Por Pohm Likit was taking the imitative to help someone in need something that I respect even if it is not the way it is supposed to be.  Sometimes following the rules is not always the best way to live.

Luang Por Pohm Likit Has Completed His Donation
Luang Por Pohm Likit gave the woman some words of comfort and encouragement.  He told her that he would return when she ran out of food.  After he left the room the other people in our group came in to visit and offer food to the family.  The family made sure to thank the people for their offerings.  It was at this point that I left everyone to chat away in Lao while I went off to check out what the big event was that was taking place a couple of blocks away - but that will be the subject of another blog.

Listening to the Visitors from Baan Mat
To Buddhists, life is suffering.  We all suffer in this life from many things. It is truly tragic when our suffering is caused by others.

Today was a special day, a day that I am grateful for.  Today I witnessed compassion and charity, given not for personal gain, but because they are the right things to do. I have said that my wife makes me a better person and now it seems like Luang Por Pohm Likit is also working on that too.

There is the way that things are supposed to be and the way that they actually are.  It is up to us, as individuals, to ensure that our actions are always the right thing to do regardless of the consequences.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Special Ritual

It has been a while since I wrote a new blog entry.  We had spent six weeks in the USA which was great for taking photographs of landscapes in Olympic National Park and Glacier National Park but not so great for taking portraits which is what I prefer to do now.

We have been back from our USA trip for one month now.  The past month has been very busy and my camera along with my preferred lens had to be sent to Bangkok for servicing.  They are back now and we are getting back to our "normal" life.

Yesterday we went out early in the morning to Tahsang Village to participate and document a unique religious ritual associated with the Naga.

The people of Northeast Thailand are predominately ethnic Lowland Lao.  The Lowland Lao of Thailand and neighboring Laos are Theravada Buddhists.  As I have written several times in this blog, the actual beliefs as well as practices of the Buddhists here are actually an amalgamation of Animist, Brahmin, and Buddhist traditions.

In this region there is a strong belief in Nagas.  Nagas are a deity that is in the form of a great snake although some Nagas are known to have transfigured into human form at times.  One of the Naga kings, Phaya Nak, is believed to live in the Mekong River just north of our home in Udon Thani.

Each day of the week has a statue of Buddha in a particular pose associated with it except for Wednesday which has two poses associated with it dependent upon the time of day.  The statue, or rather the pose, associated with Saturday is:  The Buddha Seated Under A Naga

The Buddha Seated Under A Naga
The pose depicts an event in Guatama Buddha's life.  Four weeks after Guatama Buddha began to meditate under a Bodhi tree, a large strong storm raged for seven days.  The King of the Nagas at the time, Mucalinda, a seven headed king cobra came up from his realm of the underworld and protected the Buddha from the ravages of the storm with his hood.  After the storm had cleared, Mucalinda, assumed a human form, bowed before the Buddha and returned in joy to his palace.

Yesterday a new shrine featuring The Buddha Seated Under A Naga was being dedicated at the Wat outside of Tahsang Village.  This Wat is preferred by Duang's immediate family over the Wat inside of the village.

We arrived at the Wat amongst the sugar cane and cassava fields around 8:00 A.M.  Preparations were already well underway when we arrived.  Men and woman dressed in either white or very pale blue shirts and blouses were occupied sweeping up the vegetation litter throughout the Wat grounds.  In short time the litter had been consolidated into four piles to be burned later.  The ground was now bare sandy compacted clay with patches of mud from the daily rains that we have experienced for the past month (one day without rain since 9 August)

In the Northwest corner of the grounds, under the roof of a combination open kitchen/workshop area, women were busy preparing the daily food offerings for the Monks.

There was a large table covered with a white cloth over it and surrounded by a heavy red cloth with gold fringe in front of the new shrine.  People were busy placing food offerings on the table in preparation for the dedication ritual later in the morning.

We went directly to the Sala, the meeting place where daily merit making of offering food to the Monks is conducted, with our offerings of bottled drinking water and food that Duang had prepared earlier in the morning.

Preparing Lotus Blossoms For Offerings Inside the Sala
Many women in the sala were busy preparing either the offerings for the typical morning merit making ritual and offerings of food and flowers for the dedication ritual.  Duang quickly joined in preparing the offerings for the special ritual.

For the dedication ritual, "nine" was the requirement.  All the offerings had to be in amounts of "nine"- nine green coconuts, nine bunches of bananas, nine turban squashes, nine Lotus blossoms in each vase, nine apples, nine pineapples and so on.  As it turned out, there were three locations at the Wat where offerings would be made so there were several platters of offerings to be prepared.  Since this is Thailand with a great appreciation and dedication to form as well as style - the offerings on each platter had to be placed with care and precision to be visually appealing.

I asked Duang why everything had to be "nine'.  She explained to me "Not 5, not 7, not 10. 9 very good, very special - very good for Buddha"  Who am I to argue?  I don't have to understand to report what I experience, observe, or in this case ... what I am told.

Lotus blossoms, actually buds, are a very important floral offering during rituals.  The lotus flower has strong symbolism in Buddhism.  The flower grows in muddy and murky waters. From this environment it grows forth to be beautiful.  Therefore in Buddhism, it represents the rising and blossoming above the mud and murk of the human condition to achieve enlightenment, purification - purifying of the human spirit which is born into a world of suffering to become one with the Buddha.

The petals of the closed Lotus bud are carefully peeled away from the bud, gently folded back towards, and the tips tucked back into the bud.  This process continues until there are three rows of tucked in petals.  Three - more religious connotations.  Three is very significant in Buddhism - symbolizing the three gems - Buddha, the teachings of Buddha, and the Buddhist religious community (Sanga).

Prepared Lotus Blossoms Placed Into Vase
In addition to Lotus blossoms the women were very busy removing the petals from several large plastic bags of chrysanthemums.  When they were finished there were several metal food serving platters of high mounds of bright yellow petals.  There were also some platters with mounds of white Lotus petals.

Duang Participating In Merit Making Ritual Of Offering Food To Monks
After the merit making ritual of making food offerings to the Monks, the Monks ate their one meal of the day.  Upon finishing their meal, the three Monks left the sala and returned to their quarters.  The villagers then enjoyed a community meal out of the food that the Monks had not placed in their food bowls.

When the villagers had completed their meal, the Monks returned and the special dedication ritual commenced at the new shrine.  The ritual was conducted by a visiting Monk from a nearby village.  He apparently is better versed in those matters than the young Monk at the outside Wat.

The ritual was performed by the visiting Monk with the assistance of the Abbott of the "outside" Wat.  The other "outside" Monk and three "Tapahao" young men witnessed the ritual off to the side.

The villagers sat on sahts (woven reed mats) placed upon the ground.

The ritual consisted of lighting candles, the offering of the fruits and coconuts to the spirits with a great deal of chanting by the two Monks and the villagers.  At the conclusion of this portion of the ritual, the visiting Monk tossed handfuls of flower petals at the new statue before walking through the villagers and sprinkling them with flower petals.

A Monk Tosses Chrysanthemum Petals At Shrine
After blessing the people with the flower petals, I followed the two Monks as they walked from the new shrine out through the gate of the Wat and along the adjoining dirt road outside of the Wat.  As they walked, the Monks chanted, while the visiting Monk tossed flower petals along their path.

Sprinkling Flower Petals Outside of the Wat Grounds
Upon returning to the inside of the Wat compound, the Monks went to the Bot (ubosoth), ordination hall, of the Wat where they were joined by the villagers.  Offerings had been placed earlier in the morning in front of the statues.

Offerings To the Spirits Placed in the Bot
A much shorter ritual was conducted in the Bot which concluded once again with the visiting Monk tossing flower petals on the statues, offerings as well as other participants.

Sprinkling Flower Petals On Offerings to the Spirits
From the Bot everyone made the very short walk to the shrine next to the Abbott's quarters.  This shrine was the site of the Korb Siarn Khu Ceremony that we attended on May 1.  http://hale-worldphotography.blogspot.com/2014/06/korb-siarn-khru-ceremony-in-small.html

Offerings At the Ruesi Shrine
At the Ruesi shrine, the Abbott of the outside Wat took a large bundle of joss sticks (incense), 16 total, and lit them.  I joked to him about the need to be careful to not burn the place down.  After extinguishing the flames of the incense sticks, he placed them one by one in the offerings on the table situated at the entrance to the shrine.  The villagers then each lit up nine joss sticks each and like the Monk, set the smoldering sticks into the various offerings.  I was seated at the end of the table inside of the small shrine.  In no time at all the room was filled with smoke.

The Smoke Filled Ruesi Shrine
Perhaps you might be wondering ... why the young Abbott had 16 joss sticks when everyone else had nine and nine was supposed to be so important that day?  I wondered why too.  When I asked Duang why, she explained "It's alright.  He number one. Big boss".

The ritual ended with once again the offerings and the villagers being showered with Chrysanthemum and Lotus petals.  Duang ended up with a wad of petals in her open pocketbook and I was showered with several handfuls - so many petals that some fell out of the bottom of my shirt when I lowered my pants to go to the toilet upon returning to our home.  Duang said that it was all good luck for us!

I often get singled out for the special blessings - I am typically the only foreigner at the rituals.  Since I go to so many of the events the Monks have gotten familiar and used to me.  So when the blessings are given out, be it water or petals, I get more than my share - much to everyone's amusement.  Or perhaps they believe that I need more than the local villagers.

I was not quite sure exactly what I had observed so I ran my theory past Duang.  She listened and then said to me "Why you ask me?  You understand already"  I wanted to be sure that my theory was correct and did not leave anything out.

The offerings and blessing of flower petals at the new shrine were to welcome the spirits of the new shrine to its home.  The tossing of the petals along the road out of the Wat and onto the adjoining dirt road outside the Wat was for the spirits that inhabited the area.  This was like having the ritual when you move into a new home, start a new business , or in my early days here in Thailand - commence a refinery expansion!

The offerings at the Bot and Ruesi shrine were to their spirits so that they would be accepting of the new spirit inhabitants.

On our way out of the Wat, we stopped at the new shrine where people were removing the offerings.  Duang brought one of the green coconuts back to the truck so that we could enjoy fresh coconut water for our trip back home.  After determining that it was OK I had her also bring back one of the bunches of bananas.  Tomorrow I will bake some banana bread for myself and my little friends back in Tahsang Village.

It is good to be back home!