A Religious and Cultural Experience in Bangkok - Guest Post from YTravel Blog
A Bangkok Religious Cultural Experience
Part of living and working in another country means that many windows open for you to gain an insight into the cultural traditions and ceremonies that you otherwise would not be privy to.
I taught English at Wat Saket High School in Bangkok for six months. If you are familiar with Bangkok then you would know the Golden Mountain; the golden pagoda that sits atop a hill overlooking the city. The temple attached to this Phu Khao Tong is Wat Saket, one of the oldest in the country.
The Golden Mountain greeted me each morning from the bedroom window of my converted third story office building within the school. I had only been there a week when an elaborate ceremony occurred in the Temple, which my husband and I received exclusive invitation to. We were the only falangs (foreigners) present in a sea of hundreds of excited Thais, young and old.
There were none more excited than the teachers of the school for having this privilege bestowed upon them. Their temple and school was being watched, not just by the eager onlookers, but by thousands on the TV.
A famous Thai pop singing superstar was being ordained as a novice monk. It is tradition for all Thai boys to be ordained and spend at least three months as a temporary monk. It is like an initiation into manhood and bestows great honour on your family if you become a novice monk. The singer, Songram, was only going to be a monk at Wat Saket for two weeks as he had important singing contracts to attend to.
He chose Wat Saket to be the place for his ordainment as it is a Royal Temple.
Almost as many eyes were glued to us as there were to the singer who began the ceremony getting his head cleanly shaven and washed in the temple grounds. Fans, cameramen, journalists and many fellow superstars pushed and shoved one another to get a look at his precious locks falling to the ground.
Dressed in white robes he sat in the main assembly area of the school where the head monk taught him some valuable truths about being a monk and his future Buddhist role. He was interviewed by journalists and thanked the people and was whisked away to lunch.
In the afternoon the ceremony continued in the small temple. Songram had to walk around the temple three times, which was a very slow walk considering that he was mobbed by the hundreds of people following him; you could barely see his head amongst the crowd and throngs of reporters. His family followed him bearing gifts for the temple where they then proceeded inside.
The majority of people remained outside straining their heads through the windows to get a look. My head teacher shuffled Craig and I into the temple, where we watched in fascination at the ceremony unfolding before us, amongst Songram’s superstar friends. Song Crai, the Thai superstar inquisitively greeted us and asked us where we were from. We did feel slightly awkward at being a non-Buddhist falang allowed to be present at the private ceremony inside.
There was much chanting and bowing, prayer recital and blessings led by the elderly abbot seated under a gigantic golden Buddha and surrounded by several other monks seated in a U-shape.
Songram then ceremoniously changed into the typical orange robe that signifies a monk and returned for more blessings. He was now ready to begin his novice monk duties that would start with him collecting arms at sun up the next morning. I could only imagine the line of people that would be waiting for him with sticky rice and mango.
The ceremony finished with all the monks chanting together. Guests were then allowed to walk up to Songram and place money in his bag. I am sure a confused look passed his face when my white hand dropped a few coins into his bag.
We filed out through the temple doors where the newly ordained monk began throwing coins wrapped in cellophane into the crowd. If you catch one, good luck is meant to be bestowed upon you.
An ex-student of the school generously gave his caught dose of good luck to us as a memento to this amazing day we spent getting to know more about Thai and Buddhist culture.
I still have that coin today.
Author Caz Makepeace has been living and travelling around the world since 1997. She is co-founder of the popular y travel blog where she shares her stories and travel tips to inspire you to make your life all about the memories. Join her facebook community for more fun or follow her on twitter.