Thursday, April 16, 2015

Bone Washing 2558 (2015)

A Monk Washes the Bones of Duang's Father
Yesterday, 15 April, I drove out to Tahsang Village to participate with Duang's family in the special Songkran.  Duang had spent the previous night at the village rather than driving back home at a late hour. The Songkran holiday is a very dangerous time on our roads - the most dangerous time in the the country ranked number 2 in the world for highway deaths. Thailand has 44 traffic fatalities per 100,000 population only outranked by Namibia with 45/100,000.  It seems that it is during Songkran that Thailand tries hardest to become #1.

I arrived at Wat Pha That Nong Mat at 7:00 A.M..  The bone washing ritual was scheduled to be performed before the daily ritual of offering food to the Monks.  Bone washing rituals can be performed outside in front of the Tat or inside the Wat's Ubsoth (Ordination Hall).  Duang opted to have the ritual in front of the family Tat located along the Wat's perimeter wall.

I remained at the Wat while Duang stayed in the village organizing the family and completing final arrangements.  As it turned out the bone washing ritual for her father was not performed until approximately 11:00 A.M.  This was not that bad of a delay for me - other families associated with the Wat conducted bone washing rituals for their relatives before and after the daily merit making ritual of offering food to Monks.

Sahts were placed on the ground in front of the Tat.  An additional saht was placed upon the tiled slab of the Tat where the three Monks would be seated for the ritual. This year the four village boys who had become semanens (Novice Monks) for their school break, participated in the Veeboonkun family ritual. The "Nens" sat on a saht placed on the ground next to the Tat.

Two containers of specially prepared water to be used in the ritual.  The water was prepared by filling the containers with water along with flowers.

A decorative porcelain urn, ghoat, containing the bone fragments was placed in an ordinary porcelain bowl along with a plastic drinking cup placed to the side.  A decorative metal serving tray was prepared with small portions of food offerings, two yellow birthday type wax candles, two sprigs of jasmine buds for offering to Duang's father's spirit.

The Brahman who took over duties when Duang's Uncle was no longer able to lead the laypeople in rituals supervised and lead the family in the ritual.  Water was drawn out of the large container with the plastic drinking cup.  The scented water was first poured by the Monks, including the Nens over the bone fragments contained in the ghoat.

Duang Pours Water Over Her Father's Bones
After the Monks had sprinkled the bones, the bowl was placed in front of the immediate family.  Each family member repeated the water poureding.  When they had completed, other family members and others came up to the tray and poured water.  The ritual was not limited to adults.

Our six month old grandson, Pope, was experiencing his first Songkran.

Pope was very interested in the ritual.  Children here in Isaan are taught manners and religion at a very young age.  Pope was no exception.  He was lead by her mother's hand and poured water over the bones of his great grandfather.

Pope Helps Pour Water Over His Great Grandfather's Bones
After everyone, who wanted to, had sprinkled or poured water on the bone fragments, Duang placed her hand over the open top of the ghoat and shook it several times to agitate the fragments and water.  She then allowed the water to slowly drain into the metal serving tray.  She then repeated the process.  After the second time she removed the bone fragments and held them in one hand while she drained the water from the ghoat into the tray. After inspecting each fragment and brushing off any sand like particles into the metal tray, she returned the fragments to the ghoat.  The top was placed on the ghoat.

The focus of the ritual then became the offering of food to the spirit of Duang's father.

As the ritual continued, a sai sin was unfurled to connect the food offerings, the Monks and the bone fragments together. The sai sin, a cotton string or sometimes several cotton strings are used in Buddhist as well as Animist rituals.  The strings are tied on the wrists of people in the Bai Sii Ritual, several strings are wrapped around the steering columns of motor vehicles for good luck, and in a funeral procession a thick sai sin connects the Monks who are leading the procession back to the coffin with family members and friends in between holding on to the sai sin as they walk.  At the Wat during the most part of the ritual, the coffin is connected by a sai sin from the crematorium across to the sala where  much of the ritual is being conducted.

The food offerings for the spirit were brought to the two senior Monks who pour water over the offering to symbolize the transfer of merit to the spirit from the family.

Part of this ritual, involved the pouring of water by the family members into containers to transfer the merit of the ritual to Duang's father's spirit.  Upon completion of this part of the ritual, the water was poured on the roots of plants in another merit making act.

Offerings are then made to the Monks in the name of the departed person.  Special plastic buckets are readily available in stores and shops for offering to Monks. The plastic buckets contain items such as tooth paste, tooth brush, hand soap, laundry detergent, toilet paper, and other toiletries.

Upon completion of the ritual, Duang's son took the ghoat and placed it back in the upper chamber of the Tat.  Duang, her youngest brother, and her son then washed the exterior of the Tat by pouring the remaining special water over the surface and rubbing it with their bare hands.

Life is measured by the passing of years and more specifically the rhythm of the seasons.  Another Songkran has arrived.  Some friends and family that we celebrated with last year, are no longer here.  During this Songkran, we wash their bones.

Another Songkran has arrived.  Some new family members have arrived and joined our extended family.  Little Pope celebrated his first Songkran marking a milestone in his life and adding a beat to the rhythm of this family's cycle of life.  Each death and birth marks the passage of time just as the planting along with the harvesting of the various crops in the surrounding countryside.

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