Monday, April 16, 2012

Songkram at the temple

Songkram is the Thai New Year and supposedly a festival to bring the rainy season. Like other festivals designed to bring something, it has a lot of chucking whatever that thing is about -- in this case, water. I didn't get any pictures of the actual chucking, as to do so would have meant getting my camera completely saturated, but basically, for the past four days you can't walk or drive anywhere without strategically placed groups of children hurling buckets of water on you. Bicycles and motorcycles are favorite targets.

You see a lot of trucks with unruly youth and barrels of water in the back. They will get you.
At the temple, they were preparing a procession of Buddha figurines in pickup trucks -- they take the Buddhas out so people can pour water over them to make merit for the new year. 

A few people waved me and another guy who's staying here along, so we shrugged and hopped on the back of the pickup. We spent three hours touring around Fang's back alleys, getting absolutely soaked by smiling Thai people and flinging water back at them and giggling. There were bright green rice fields and happy smiling people throwing jasmine water over me and the little pool of water between my butt and the wheel hump I was sitting on was nice and warm. At one point, speaking of warm water, the entire procession pulled over, and the guy driving our pickup jubilantly shouted "Toilet!" and pointed to the nearby foliage, where almost everybody had dismounted and were peeing away into the shrubs. Including the monks.

Eventually, they took us to a karaoke bar in the middle of nowhere and offered us food and alcohol, neither of which we were allowed to have because of the eight precepts. So we just sat and clapped along to the karaoke and chatted in hand signals and then they said we should sing something and they programmed the machine with a video that I think was the Pussycat Dolls or something else equally naughty, and we pretended to be offended and everybody laughed and shook our hands when we left. And then they took us to another bar where the monks all went swimming, and finally we had to beg them to return us to the Wat in time for chanting.

That was Friday.

This was the crowd around the Abbott. You can barely see his bright orange robes. Oh wait, you can always see bright orange robes.
Sunday was Songkram day proper, and the temple was PACKED. Everyone started showing up around 5:45 to start finding places in the large sala, and there were food donations coming out people's ears. Apparently you get extra merit if you donate on Songkram so we had food everywhere, with novices having to carry out the giant trays of it every ten minutes, empty them, and then come back for more. They had about four stations with different monks set up to chant blessings for anyone who wanted to donate money. It was a madhouse, a madhouse.

This was the pile of shoes outside our dining hall. Everyone was going in and out constantly hurling more food at the novices.
Tables in the big sala.
The day before, a bunch of people showed up with piles of sand. Apparently, laypeople are not allowed to take anything from the temple and since they track out sand on their shoes every day of the year, when Songkram comes, they have to bring it back. So they do, in a big pile, and then they make little sand "chedis" out of it (they're like sand holy relics, as opposed to sandcastles). On Sunday, everyone came and decorated the big sand pile with banners.

Some very serious older people made this one.

Banners! Banners everywhere!

The monks received all their food and chanted a lot, and then everybody left and by noon, the temple was silent, hot, and still. It was hard to believe that the madness had happened at all.

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