Monday, December 15, 2014

Car Blessing

Luang Por Pohm Likit Blessing Duang's Car

Recently we purchased a Ford Fiesta from our friends.  Transferring registration into Duang's name involved the fairly typical tasks of the previous owner paying off the outstanding loan balance, getting Duang's name on the car registration book, and getting Duang's name on the current insurance policy.  Last week we went to the Land Transportation Office outside of town and signed some papers as well as paid some nominal fees to register the car in our province.  We were told to return tomorrow, Tuesday, to complete the process - inspection and getting new plates .... and pay some additional fee.

There was also another process involved in obtaining the vehicle.  We had to get the car properly blessed.  The blessing was to be performed before mealtime by Luang Por Pohm Likit out at his temple.

Duang had me drive the car to just outside of Luang Por Pohm Likit's hut.  I had to open all the doors as well as the trunk and leave the engine running for the ritual.

Our friend, the Monk, came out of his hut and took a statue of Buddha and a large round glass ball from an ornate metal bowl that he had previously placed on the remnant of a plastic chair.  The metal statue of Buddha was an obvious object for a Buddhist ritual blessing but the glass ball has other implications.  The ball was like a super sized marble that we used to play "marbles" with, in the time long before smart phones and tablets.  Those marbles were highly prized and referred to as "purees".  This would have been a very highly prized a long time ago in a far away land.

Many of the believes and rituals here in Isaan are not pure Buddhism but a vestiges of former practices of Animism, Brahminism (precursor to Hinduism), and Hinduism.  The glass ball, lukel, is associated with the Naga (serpent ruler of the water underworld).  Apparently the glass orb symbolizes the eye of the Naga.  Belief in the Naga is very strong today in Lao People's Democratic Republic, Northeast Thailand, and Cambodia.

Monk Runs Lukel Over Car as He Chants
The Monk walked around the car in sort of an inspection.  He then rubbed the lukel over the car with his right hand while holding the metal Buddha statue in his other hand.  Several times he stopped in a location and appeared to be chanting as well as meditating.  After he had completed his circumambulations and contemplations, Luang Por Pohm Likit entered the car.

Once inside of the car, he checked out all the instruments.  He raced the engine several times and wrapped additional sei sin (cotton string) around the steering column.  He also hung from the rear view mirror the pumalei (floral garlands) that we had purchased along the route to the wat.  He then dipped his fingers into a small "lip balm" type metal container and placed the paste like contents using his finger tips on the headliner over the driver's seat.

Water Blessing of the Car
The monk exited the car and fetched a Monk's food bowl which contained water along with a stiff reed brush.  Luang Por Pohm Likit then walked around the car chanting and sprinkling water over it with the stiff brush.  Duang and I were also sprinkled with the water as part of the ritual.

After Duang and I had received the water blessing, the car blessing ritual was completed. I then shut off the engine and closed all the doors.

Thailand is the second most dangerous country for driving.  I have seen many bad accidents and uncountable number of near accidents in the time that I have stayed here.  It is very dangerous and like the wild west out on the roads.  Motor vehicles and motorbikes are blessed - I am not sure if the blessings provide any protection, however with as dangerous as the roads are around here it is wise and prudent to take any and all precautions to be safe.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Prasat Hin Muang Tam

Entrances of the Sanctuary

In the beginning of last month. my wife and I traveled to Cambodia to tour the Khmer ruins in the Siem Reap area - Angkor Wat.  It was a wonderful trip with many interesting photography and learning experiences - so many photography opportunities that over a month later I am still editing and post-processing the photos.

After spending 6 days at our home upon returning to Thailand, we drove southeast to attend the annual Elephant Round-Up in Surin.

As part of our stay in the Surin area, we ended going to the nearby province of Buriram. Our friends, who were familiar with the area, drove us to Prasat Hin Muang Tam.  Prasat Hin Muang Tam is located in the small village of Khok Meaung, at the base of an extinct volcano upon which a rather  famous Khmer temple has been restored by the Thai government.

Prasat Hin Muang Tam is a restored Khmer temple complex.  It is 1,000 years old and was built during the reign of the Khmer Empire in the late 10th and early 11th century.  The temple was built along an ancient road that ran from Angkor Thom (Siem Reap) Cambodia and Phimai, Thailand.

Today, there is ample parking a very short walk from the temple complex.  Our walk to the complex was through a grove of large trees - a sort of horticultural garden.  There were paved sidewalks through the garden and the grounds were very well maintained.

I especially liked that the various trees and plants had name plates which gave the name of them in Thai, English, as well as the Latin scientific names.

The temple is surrounded by a wall constructed of blocks of laterite - a weathered product of basalt, a clay that when exposed to air and sun hardens (to me it resembles iron slag).  The laterite here is reddish due to the being rich in iron from Hematite and Goethite. The Khmer people used laterite blocks for many of the structural elements of their temples.

Once you enter into the complex by passing through one of the gates that are located in the center of each wall enclosing the rectangular complex, you encounter four ponds at each corner of the inner sanctuary.  This is a common feature of Khmer temples in that the water features represent the primordial ocean surrounding a central tower which represents Mount Meru, the home where the gods reside in Hindu mythology.  The four other towers of the temples represent the mountains that surround Mount Meru.

Most people have seen photographs of Angkor Wat or other Khmer temples with reflections of the temple in some body of water.  The water, sometimes a sort of large puddle and other times a more clearly defined man made enclosure are remnants of the time when the temples were surrounded by moats - symbolizing and representing the ocean which surrounds Mount Meru.  The ponds at Prasat Hin Muang Tam are unique because they are "L" shaped in addition to having laterite steps to the bottom of the ponds.  Nagas, five headed serpents, line the edges of each pond.  Where the heads of the Nagas come together at the head of the pond, the heads rise up to form a gateway leading to the formal stairways to the bottom of the pond.

Another feature that I enjoyed at this restored temple complex was the use of bilingual signs in Thai and English to point out and explain some of the features of the temple - a feature that is absent in Cambodian sites.

When I visited the temple there were only five other people inside of the complex, Duang and our friends had decided to stay outside and enjoy the shade of the large trees.  It was enjoyable to wander around the rounds and take photographs without other people in them with relative ease - not always the case or so easily in Siem Reap.  It was especially nice to not have bus loads of tour groups trampling around destroying the tranquility of a sacred site.

Prasat Hin Muang Tam also has some very nice and interesting sandstone carvings.

I was surprised to encounter such a fine example of Khmer temples here in Thailand.  There are other ruins in the area also - 146 of them.   In Siem Reap it is easy to become overwhelmed by all the ruins - typically around the second day, all the temples seem to look alike and one forgets which one was visited and what was unique about it, especially for first time visitors.  Not so in Buriram and Surin Provinces in Thailand.  You can get a taste of Khmer architecture without becoming overwhelmed by the amount of ruins or fellow tourists.

Our trip to Prasat Hin Muang Tam was a surprise - a very pleasant surprise.  I believe that we will return in the near future - return to Buriram and Surin as well as once again to Siem Reap!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Back to the Red Lotus Sea


Red Lotus - Nymphaea Lotus

This year on 23 February, we drove out to Thale Bua Daeng, "The Red Lotus Sea, to view the blooming water lilies.  As it turned out, we were at the very tail end of the blooming season of the flowers.

The season is recognized as December to February.  We had enjoyed our visit in February and decided that we would return some other time when the flowers were in greater numbers and greater bloom.

This Sunday, we decided to return to Thale Bua Daeng to tour the blooming water lilies - this time at the start of the season.  Our 5 year old grandson, Peelawat, had spent the weekend with us and we needed to get him back to his village for school on Monday.  Stopping by Thale Bua Daeng is a nice side trip on our way out to Tahsang Village.

We arrived at Thale Bua Daeng around 7:00 AM.  I had failed to check on Sunrise time in order to determine our departure time.  Arriving at 7:00 AM in early December is not the same as arriving at 7:00 AM in late February ... echoes of Duang's  admonition "Thailand not same America"?  We enjoyed a spectacular sunrise as we DROVE to Thale Bua Daeng.  By the time that we arrived at the boat rental location, the brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows of sunrise had turned to warm white.  Memo to self:  Check sunrise time before setting departure time if you want sunrise photos at a specific location.

Tour Boats On the Red Lotus Sea

We rented a boat for the three of us - 300 Baht - roughly $10 USD.  The tour lasted approximately 45 minutes and the driver stopped where we asked him to in order for me to take some photographs.  The first boats leave at 6:00 AM so it is possible to get sunrise photos from on the water.

The north end of Nong Hon Kumphawapi, the geographical name for the Red Lotus Sea location, was filled with brilliant pink lily flowers, the mass of color penetrated by clear channels of open water that the boats traverse.  Small birds darted and flitted about the surface of the water and blooms.  The best time to view the blooms is from 6:00 AM to around 11:00 AM when the flowers close up due to the light and heat.

After about 45 minutes, we were back at the boat dock.  This trip was shorter and less expensive than our tour back at the end of February.  This tour also was to the left of the docking area whereas the first tour was off to the right.  I was curious about the possibility of chartering a boat for a longer period of time.  We went up to the area where you bought tickets for the tour.  Duang spoke for me and determined that:  1. You could not charter a boat for a longer tour on Saturdays or Sundays because of the number of tourists.  2.  You can charter a boat for the day on other days of the week for 1,000 Baht ($30 USD)  I am not sure what is meant by a "day" since by 11:00 AM the flowers have closed up.  Looking back, we had paid 500 Baht for 2-1/2 hour tour so it seems there is some latitude for negotiation when we return in roughly a month.

As we set off to complete our drive out to Tahsang Village, we passed many tourist vans and full sized buses headed to Thale Bua Daeng.

In January there will a festival to celebrate the blooming of the flowers.


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