Tag Archives: samut prakan

Makha Bucha Day at Wat Klang

One of the most important events in the Thai Buddhist calendar is Makha Bucha Day (sometimes spelled Magha Puja). It takes place on the full moon day of the third lunar month which is usually late February or early March. This year it was today, 7th March 2012. Like many Thai people, I was up early this morning before the sun rose to go and visit my local temple. I took my first picture at Wat Klang in Paknam shortly before 7 a.m. There was already hundreds of local people there making merit.

There were many food stalls outside the temple selling various food such as curries and Thai desserts. However, these weren’t for the lay people to buy to take home and eat. These were pre-cooked food to give to the monks in order to make merit. Strictly speaking, to make the most merit you need to prepare the food yourself, but who has time for that these days? After choosing the food that they wanted to offer, the vendor then worked out the cost.

Once they had bought a tray load of food, they then usually squatted down, held the tray up to the level of their forehead and then said a small prayer. There was also a small Buddha shrine there which people paid respect to. Next they then added the rice and bags of curries to a long line of alms bowls. The monks weren’t actually sitting there which always seems a bit strange to me. But, I guess the Thai people felt they were still making the merit.

Once the people had made merit they made their way to an open area in front of a long narrow platform. This is where the monks from the temple were sitting waiting to start the chanting. It was a good turnout this morning. Very impressive. The chanting went on for about an hour. There was also a sermon from the abbot. People also had an opportunity to make a personal offering of essential items or food to their favourite monk. Most people would then go home though others might stay the whole day and practice meditation.

In the late afternoon or evening, people will head back to their local temples for “wien tien” which is a kind of candlelight procession around the ordination hall or chedi. I usually go to Wat Asokaram in Samut Prakan which is a very famous meditation temple in Thailand. Many people stay here overnight. They wear white clothes and practise meditation. The real “wien tien” is with candles in the evening after the chanting which usually starts at about 7.30 p.m. But many people go earlier to walk around the temple three times in a clockwise direction.

Making Merit for H.M. The King’s Birthday

Today, people from all around the country are coming together to celebrate the 82nd birthday of H.M. The King. Many of them are wearing pink which is an auspicious colour believed to help make the King better. The Thai monarch has been in Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok since 19th September for treatment for inflammation of his lungs. Several thousand well-wishers gathered at the City Hall Plaza in Samut Prakan to give alms to 99 monks in honour of His Majesty.

The ceremony was opened by Mr. Surachai Kanasa, the Governor of Samut Prakan. He first paid homage to a Buddha image and then took part in chanting. Attending the event were many local government officials who all came together to pay homage to His Majesty. A similar event was being held at the same time in Bangkok at Sanam Luang. H.M. The King is regarded as a father to all Thai people as they love him so much. This day is also celebrated as National Father’s Day.

After the chanting had finished, the Governor led the local people in giving alms to several hundred monks. Tables had been set up around the parade ground and local people had gathered behind them since early morning. They did this to make merit on behalf of H.M. The King. To make the most merit, the food should have been prepared by themselves before they arrived and not bought at a food stall. Leftovers from the night before must never be given to monks.

The local people stood behind the tables as the monks slowly made their way down the row. People were giving fresh food as well as pre-prepared packages such as pot noodles that you can see in this picture. As some of these items were too big for the alms bowls, each of the monks were assisted by temple boys who carried big sacks. The monk then emptied their bowls into these sacks. By the end of the alms giving event, the pick-up trucks from the temples were full with sacks of food. Local people also gave the monks purple orchid flowers and also envelopes containing money.

After the alms giving had finished, Mr. Surachai Kanasa and local people made merit for H.M. The King by releasing 1,000,000 sea creatures into the Chao Phraya River. This is a common event done to make merit for birthdays. People usually release birds or fish. I thought that 1,000,000 was a staggering number to release in one go, but it turned out to be very small shrimps. These were in plastic bags which people emptied out into a large tub of water. From this there was a pipe which washed the shrimps out into the river below.

More pictures can be seen at www.PaknamPhotos.com and also a video at www.paknam.com.

5 Million Baht Toilet at Thai Temple

Toilets in Thailand don’t exactly have the best of reputations. They are often dirty, smelly and not well-looked after. They are also nearly always squat toilets. Now comes the news that the temple toilets at Wat Bang Phli Yai Nai in Samut Prakan have recently built a toilet block which rivals any in a five star hotel. The toilets are reported to have cost as much as 5 million baht.

As you enter the toilets, you will find a shoe rack outside for changing your shoes. You then enter through an automatic glass door. Inside it is all air-conditioned. The room is divided into six toilets for women and six for men. In addition there is a separate section with urinals for men. In the middle of the room there is a garden with plants and fountains.

The room is beautifully decorated with mirrors and exquisite lighting. Everywhere there are sensors. You can flush the toilets with the wave of your hand. The hand basins also have optical sensors and the water will start running as you put your hands under the tap. The same goes for the hand dryers. The toilets have full-time attendants who keep the place spotless.

The temple and nearby market receive a lot of tourists and now these visitors have a place to relieve themselves in comfort. Knowing Thai people, I reckon these toilets will also become a tourist attraction. They were featured on a popular Channel 9 programme on Monday night. Almost straight away, we noticed a spike on our www.paknam.com website. People were coming in searching for the name of the temple in Thai. I reckon this weekend, these toilets at the temple will be very crowded with tourists. Will you be there?

Novice Monk Ordination for H.M. The King

During the school holidays in Thailand, it is common for Thai students to ordain as novice monks for a short time. In the olden days, before there were government schools, poor boys would ordain in order to get an education. However, these days, their parents want them to ordain for a short time during holidays in order to keep them out of trouble. They also have training in ethics and Buddhism which is good for them. At Wat Chai Mongkhol in Samut Prakan, over one hundred Thai boys recently ordained as novices to honour the 82nd Birthday of H.M. The King. They will be novices from 17th to 25th October 2009.

On the first day, the boys went to the temple with their parents and other family members. All of them were wearing white. The first important ceremony is the cutting of the hair. The first few snips are symbolic and are usually done by an elder member of the family or honoured guest. Here the abbot and local politician went around cutting a small piece of hair each. The other family members then took turns. Finally, all of the hair was shaved off including the eyebrows. Once this was completed, the boys took part in a parade through town to visit the city pillar. At the shrine they made an announcement to the spirits of the shrine that they were ordaining for H.M. The King. In this picture, you can see some of the boys carrying portraits of His Majesty. Others are holding yellow flags.

In Thai, novices are known as a “samanen” or just “nen” for short. A monk is called a “bhikkhu”. The main difference between a novice and a monk is that novices only have 10 precepts while monks have 227. If you are a male and are less than twenty years of age, then you cannot become a fully fledged monk. Everyone first ordains as a novice. The first part of the ordination procedure is called the “Going Forth in Homelessness”. This is where the candidate requests to become a novice. He is instructed about the Triple Gem (the Buddha, the Teaching, and the Community of Monks) and the purpose and benefits of the ordination. He is then told the five basic objects of meditation which are: hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth and skin.

The first half concludes when the shoulder cloth is put over the head of the boys. After this, all of the candidates are taken outside to change from their white clothes to their robes. These are not easy to put on. The boys certainly couldn’t do it themselves. As there were so many of them, they needed the help of monks and family members who may have once been monks themselves. The novices basically wear the same robes as monks, but they don’t put on the double-thickness robe. When you see the monks go out on the morning alms round it is easy to spot the novices as they have one shoulder uncovered. Novices and monks can only wear the orange robes. They are not allowed to wear vests or underwear.

Once they have the robes on, then all of them go back into the hall. They next request to take Refuge in the Triple Gem and the Ten Precepts. They say: “I go to the Buddha for refuge. I go to the Dhamma for refuge. I go to the Sangha for refuge.” This is then repeated three times. The abbot then tells them that they are now “samanen”. As a novice monk, they have to obey the ten precepts. This includes basic things like not stealing or lying and also not eating after noon. But they can drink liquids in the afternoon like milk.

At the end of the ceremony, the abbot reads the 10 precepts out in Pali which is the ancient language of the scriptures. The novices have to repeat them after him.

1. Refrain from killing living things.
2. Refrain from stealing.
3. Refrain from un-chastity (sensuality, sexuality, lust).
4. Refrain from lying.
5. Refrain from taking intoxicants.
6. Refrain from taking food at inappropriate times (after noon).
7. Refrain from singing, dancing, playing music or attending entertainment programs.
8. Refrain from wearing perfume, cosmetics and garland (decorative accessories).
9. Refrain from sitting on high chairs and sleeping on luxurious, soft beds.
10. Refrain from accepting money.

The new novice monks now prostrate three times and leaves the hall. We have posted more pictures over at the Samut Prakan Forums. You can read more stories about Buddhism in Thailand at our www.ThaiBuddhist.com website.

Acting Supreme Patriarch of Thailand

This morning in Samut Prakan we had the rare honour of a visit by Somdet Phra Phuttacharn (Somdet Kiaw) the abbot of Wat Saket in Bangkok. However, this is no ordinary monk as he is the Acting Supreme Patriarch of Thailand. He is effectively the leader of all Buddhist monks in Thailand. He came to Samut Prakan to open a new building at Thong Siang Vegetarian House. Tomorrow is coincidently the start of the Chinese Vegetarian Festival and for the next ten days there will be religious ceremonies here every day. I will be going there tomorrow for the opening ceremony and I will be reporting here and over at the Samut Prakan Forums and at our Samut Prakan Online News website. We have quite a few interesting news stories being published there recently.

Exploring Phra Samut Chedi

One of the most important temples in Samut Prakan is Phra Samut Chedi. It is not only the symbol of the province but is also the site for the longest running temple fair in Thailand. According to the organizers, we are now in the 182nd year. The whole city comes to a standstill during the fair for twelve days and nights. During the evening, both main roads through the town are closed. In Thai, the alternative name for the temple is “Chedi Klang Nam”. This means the pagoda in the middle of the river. This is because originally the temple was built on a small artificial island in the middle of the Chao Phraya River. Over one hundred years ago, when foreigners arrived in Thailand by ship, the first thing that they saw was this giant white pagoda on an island in the middle of the river.

Over the years, the course of the river changed a little and the gap between the island and the West Bank started to silt up. In 1933, in an attempt to make it into an island again, they dug an 8 meter wide ditch around the temple. However, it was a losing battle. In 1940, the Chao Phraya River was dredged in order to allow big ships up to the port in Bangkok. By the 1950’s, Phra Samut Chedi was no longer on an island. It is a shame in many ways as it lost much of its charm. Back then the only way to go there was by boat. Even the candle light procession around the temple had to be done in a boat. In the above picture you can see where they used to tie up their boats. It used to be water to the right of this picture.

The idea of building this temple belongs to King Rama II. Back in 1822 he had noticed a sandbank in the Chao Phraya River and thought it would be good to build a pagoda there. Unfortunately he died before the work could be started. However, his son, King Rama III, started construction of the island and the temple on October 30th, 1827. It was completed seven months later. The shape was different to the one we have now. Instead of being a smooth bell-like structure, it had 12 notches. It was also only 20 meters high. Encased in the pagoda were some relics of the Buddha but these were later stolen. The present pagoda was built by King Rama IV. He had the new bell-shaped pagoda built around the old one and increased the height to 39 meters. He also brought twelve Buddha relics from the Grand Palace to be enshrined here. He wanted to make this an important landmark for when people entered Thailand.

In 1862, Anna Leonowens wrote the following about her first view of Phra Samut Chedi: On an island there “is perhaps the most unique and graceful object of architecture in Siam; shining like a jewel on the broad bosom of the river, fantastic and gilded, flashing back the glory of the sun, and duplicated in shifting shadows in the limpid waters below.. Visiting this island some years later, I found that this temple, like all other pyramidal structures in this part of the world, consist of solid masonry of brick and mortar. The bricks made here are remarkable, being fully eight inches long and nearly four broad, and of fine grain. There are cornices on all sides, with steps to ascend to the top, where a long inscription proclaims the name, rank and virtues of the founder, with dates of the commencement of the island and the shrine. The whole of the space, extending to the low stone breakwater that surrounds the island, is paved with the same kind of brick, and encloses, in addition to Phra Chedi, a smaller temple with a brass image of the sitting Buddha. It also affords accommodation to the numerous retinue of princes, nobles, retainers, and pages who attend the king in his annual visits to the temple, to worship, and make votive offerings and donations to the priests.”

A tradition that started back then was the annual worship festival for the temple. In those days this mainly took place on the water. They had shadow puppet shows and Ramakien plays. Another tradition that was started was the wrapping of the sacred red cloth around the 30 meter high pagoda. Originally, they got prisoners from the local jails to climb to the top to wrap the cloth around the pagoda. But, this was a dangerous job and probably after a few accidents they refused to climb to the top. They wouldn’t go even if they were threatened. However, a few members of the Rungjaeng family stepped up and offered to climb to the top. Their bravery impressed the local officials. From that time onwards, only members of the Rungjaeng family are allowed to do this job at the start of the Temple Fair every year. It is indeed a dangerous job as they have no harnesses when they climb a bamboo ladder to the top and then walk along ledges to wrap the cloth.

On our Samut Prakan Forums you can see pictures of this ceremony as well as pictures of the Temple Fair that is going on at the moment until 20th October 2009.