Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Songpoo Day 3 April 2015






This is my sixth year here in Isaan.  Every year I have participated in a grand event called Songpoo Day.  Try as I may, I have not been able to figure out exactly what Songpoo Day is.  Despite my questioning, perhaps bordering on interrogation of my wife I do not understand much more about the day than when I first arrived.

From my wife I have learned ... "Songpoo Day, very good day, good day for Buddha, People take care Buddha, Happy happy - good for everybody, have party."  Well I do know and accept what she says.

Part of my difficulty in understanding Songpoo Day is the day that it is celebrated.varies from year to year.  Some years it is before Songkran and other years it is at the official close of the Songkran Festival.  The one thing for certain is that Songpoo is associated with Songkran.


Laymen Offering Food to the Monks
My latest theory on Songpoo Day is that it is a special event that is determined by each Wat as to when to celebrate it during the Songkran season.  During Songkran, respect is demonstrated to the elders by pouring scented cool water over their hands and and rubbing the back of their necks with the water to help cool them off during the hottest month of the year.  On Songpoo Day the people have a big party at the Wat.  Part of the ritual of the day is when the people walk around the Ubsoth (Ordination Hall) three times clockwise bearing money trees - actually banana stalks with bamboo skewers holding paper money stuck into the stalk.  The money trees are late offered to the Monks. The money is intended to help pay for the utilities and maintenance of the Wat.


Special Foods to be Offered to the Monks
The event starts off with the daily ritual of offering food to the Monks.  Because of the festive nature of Songpoo Day, there was more and a higher quality of food offered to the Monks than on regular mornings.  There were also more Monks at the Wat than a typical day.

Songpoo Day was celebrated at the "Outside" Wat, Wat Pha That Nong Mat.  Wat Pha That Nong Mat is located in the sugar cane fields outside of Tahsang Village.  The "Outside" Wat and the "Inside" Wat are Theravada Buddhist temples however they are of two different monastic orders - Mahanikaya and Dhammayuttika.  The Monks of the outside Wat are Dhammayuttika, a more restrictive order, than their Mahanikaya brothers of the inside Wat.

Although Duang's family prefers the Dhammayuttika order, Monks from both orders typically participate in family events.  This is yet another example of the Thai expression of "Same, Same But Different".

On special days such as Songpoo Day the Monks of both Wats will join together for the ritual. An example of another popular Thai saying "Good for me, Good for you"

Because this is also the school recess season, the Monks were joined by four "Nens" semanens (Novice Monks) school boys attending a sort of religious summer camp.

Villagers Building their Money Trees in the Vihear to Parade Around the Ubsoth
After the Monks had completed their meal in the Vihear, the lay people enjoyed a community meal. Upon completing their meal and cleaning up, the people went outside to participate in the festivities.  At these big festivals there are many booths set up with food, soft drinks, and drinking water.  You can eat and drink as much as you wish to ... for free.  My lunch was a bowl of Thai noodles with pork and chicken called "Rattna", an ice cream cone, to go along with the bottle of Coke, package of cake, and a banana leaf filled with rice/coconut milk concoction offered to me by one of the Monks.  It seems that they always take care of me on my visits.  It has gotten to the point now that they will stage direct me during the rituals - letting me know when and where to set up for a good photograph during the rituals.

Pare Enjoys One of  Her Many Ice Cream Cones - I counted three
Never Too Young to Enjoy Ice Cream
Or Too Old to Enjoy Ice Cream





Peelawat Enjoys Some Free Watermelon
Families provide the food, drinks and ice cream for the people in attendance.  It turns out they earn merit for providing offerings that attract people to donate to the Wat and to enjoy themselves.  The food is always good and everyone is in good spirits.  Some people are in better spirits than others but they have to provide their own ... and I am not talking about phi (ghosts).

Although you can drink beer and whiskey on the Wat grounds ("Up to you"), alcohol is neither donated or offered for sale.

Offerings to the Monks In the Ubsoth
Another ritual was conducted inside of the Ubsoth, the Ordination Hall.  Actually it was more like an Ordination Room than a Hall - a roughly 10 meter by 10 meter free standing building.  Because of the festival when statues will be washed, several statues from the Wat had joined the statues of the Ubsoth for the day.



Praying Hands Connected to Sai Sin (Sacred Thread)
Duang's cousin, the Abbot of a Wat out in the woods, presided over the ritual in the Ubsoth.  This was a great ritual.  Besides the lengthy chanting by the Monks, the Abbot burned two white candles over some water held in a pressed metal decorative silver colored bowl.  The water as part of the ritual this sacred water was sprinkled over the laypeople and poured on the statues.

Pouring Water On a Statue
Besides families offering food and drink, other people offered their talents.  Duang's youngest brother is a morlam performer.  He stages shows through out the province.  Duang's father, who died a year ago, was also a well known local morlam performer who taught many of the older traditional performers in the area.  To honor Duang's father and to make merit during Songpoo Day many of his compatriots and students agreed to perform for free at the Wat.

Morlam Show
As always, the music and dancing was great - a strong link to the Lao Loum ethnic roots of the people of Isaan.  People placed woven reed mats, sahts, on the ground underneath the tall trees of the Wat's ground.  The area was sprinkled with groups of grandmothers with their grand-babies, young people drinking alcohol, families, and the guys that you can always count on being drunk at these events.  Everyone was well behaved and there were not any problems.

Just Because You Are Not in the Band Does Not Mean You Can Not Play the Cymbals
Enjoying the Show With Yai (Grandmother)
Songpoo Day 2015 in Tahsang Village was a joyous occasion spent with family and friends. It was another example of an event that strengthened people's bonds to their faith, family and community.  It remains a cultural event that has been usurped and polluted by tourism.  My hope is that it always remains that way.

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