Saturday, October 25, 2014

Basahts - Houses for Offerings to the Spirits.

Ban Maet Villagers Constructing a Basaht

As part of the Lao Loum, ethnic Lao, Theravada Buddhist funeral ritual and subsequent Tamboon Nung Roy Wan (100 days after cremation) ritual, offerings are made to the spirits - both the recently deceased as well as others.

In addition to making offerings to the spirits, offerings are also made to the local Monks.  The making of offerings is a merit making ritual by the family, friends, and neighbors of the deceased.  Merit is earned in many ways and is a determining factor in a person's reincarnation.  People earn merit for themselves as well as for their ancestors.

For death rituals and 100 Day Anniversary, the offerings to the spirits are made in small spirit houses.  The spirit houses are hand made out of local materials such as bamboo, banana leaves, banana stalks, colored paper, Styrofoam, wax, and foam board.

The spirit houses are constructed by men even including the elaborate cutting of colored paper to create lantern type decorations.

Inside the spirit houses, small furniture type items, household goods such as plates and cups, clothing items, food stuff, and money are placed - all items necessary for the ghosts to have on their journey to the other world.  Other offerings, offerings to the Monks, such as money, clocks, fans, pots, pans, brooms, buckets of toiletries, towels, etc. accompany the procession of the spirit house from the home of the deceased person to the local Wat.

Basahts are also used to make offerings to the Monks on special religious days, such as the end of Vassa, also known as the End of Buddhist Lent and End of the Buddhist Rain Retreat - Ok Phansa

Earlier this month, on the day before Ok Phansa, I went out with my wife to the small village of Ban Maet, east of our home.  Luang Por Pohm Likit, thinking or rather knowing that I would be interested,  had called to let us know about the local men would be constructing a basaht.

At a home not very far from the forest Wat, the local men had assembled at the home of a local policeman to build a basaht.

Unlike previous basahts that I had seen, this one was being constructed out of all natural materials - no plastic chairs as a foundation, no Styrofoam, no foam boards or even colored paper.

The base of the basaht was a stretcher type structure of bamboo.  The center of the basaht was a freshly peeled banana stalk. Two men worked on setting and securing the stalk to the bamboo base.

Another two men sat at a table and were occupied creating very small pegs almost pin like from bamboo.  As they finished a peg, they pushed it into a waste piece of banana stalk saving the pegs for future use.

Once the men had properly secured the center banana stalk, the men focused on installing stalks of what appeared to be very young sugar cane to the central column.  To provide some dimension and decorative element to the structure, the young green stalks were partially cut and bent so as to form triangles protruding from the surface of the column.  Ensuring that there was uniformity and symmetry, the cuts were carefully measured.  Lacking a tape measure or ruler, the master builder used precut pieces of bamboo to layout his cuts. The stalks were then attached to the column with the homemade pegs and wrapped with small diameter wire.

Other commitments prevented us from seeing the completed basaht or to participate in the next day's ritual.  However when we returned to the forest Wat for Duang's birthday, I discovered the completed basaht - being returned to the earth from which came.

The Spent Basaht Left to Biodegrade

I am often awed by the resourcefulness of the local people.  They have the ability to make the most out of whatever is available to them.  Often they demonstrate style as well as grace in their creations using locally available materials. Witnessing their skill is often an inspiration for me.

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