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Aspects of Thai Buddhist Culture

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Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UK Essays.

CHAPTER V

Thai Culture

At the outset of this study I had intended to have two sections in the final chapter, one section detailing the Buddhist roots of all things Thai and the other showing Hindu / Indic influence. This idea has been abandoned by the author due to the limited 'solely' Buddhist influence. There are many aspects of Thai culture that have combined elements of other countries such as China, Laos etc but I have chosen to limit the comparisons to Buddhist / Hindu wherever possible. The study will instead focus on detailing the aspects of influence and state whether they have a combined influence or whether they have been influenced by only one of the subjects.

The reader will by now appreciate the massive scope of Hinduism and as such it will prove very difficult to find aspects of Thai Buddhist culture that do not have at least some basis in Hinduism. The common origin of the Indian sub-continent and the antiquity of Hinduism make such a subjective study difficult. For this reason I undertook a survey of many Thai people, including but not limited to, my friends, my students, neighbours, monks, etc.

I asked them to make a list of 20 things that they considered to be Thai or that which they thought might be perceived by foreign visitors as representative of their country and culture. The answers were varied (and, at times amusing due to language) and from the answers they gave I have composed a list of the results. (shown on next page). The list has been arranged alphabetically and I have limited the list to the most common answers. The list may have been influenced by regional representation as many of the people gave regional answers such as Isan, or the rocket festival. The answers were unprompted by the author and I feel that the list is accurate for the purpose of this study.

  1. Almsround by the Monks
  2. Arts and Crafts
  3. Boat Races / Royal Barge Procession
  4. Buddhism
  5. Elephants & Buffaloes
  6. Isan / Isarn
  7. Monuments
  8. Mai Pen Rai !
  9. Offerings / Merit Making
  10. Rain Dance
  11. Respect for Royalty
  12. Rocket Festival
  13. Royalty
  14. Temples / Shrines
  15. Thai Smile / Friendliness
  16. The Wai ( Thai Greeting )
  17. Thai Boxing
  18. Thai Festivals & Ceremonies
  19. Thai Dance / Thai Dress
  20. Thai Food / Fruit Sculpture
  21. Thai language
  22. Thai literature
  23. Thai Massage / Traditional Thai medicine
  24. Thai music / musical instruments
  25. Thai Silk
  26. Tuk Tuk ( 3 wheel vehicle)
  27. Sanuk !
  28. Sukhothai Kingdom

The discerning reader will note that Hinduism is absent from the list. This was a little surprising to the author as I had distributed approx two hundred surveys and had about 60% returned completed and not a single reply had Hinduism or Brahmanism as an answer. Buddhism was on every single list returned to me and that was not in the least surprising.

I had not thought to make my own list prior to asking the Thai people their opinion and I think this was a mistake or rather an oversight on my part. I am unable to remember exactly what I conceived of as "Thai-ness", but the Thai smile and the Wai greeting would definitely have been included in any list. Westerners who visit the Kingdom generally know in advance about the Kingdoms Buddhist temples and the friendliness of the people. The Thai language appears to be very difficult for the average foreigner / westerner to master and for that reason I have chosen to begin my analyses by looking at the Thai Language / Thai Script.

There was obviously a Thai language long before there was a written Script. By far the most interesting thing about the Thai script is that it was "invented" by a Thai king ! Not many countries can make such a claim, but is there any basis to the claim which is widely accepted by the majority of the Thai people?

The sources I consulted all agreed that the Thai script has its roots in India. In fact, many of the South - East Asian scripts are very similar as they all have the same root, namely the Brahmi script of ancient India. At the time of the Sukhothai Kingdom the country of Siam was under the control of the Khmer Empire. It is very likely that the Khmer alphabet had an influence on the Thai alphabet. A look at the first 'vagga/ varga' of Khmer & Thai consonants will show the striking similarities.

Khmer Palm Leaf Script

Modern Khmer

Modern Thai

The other Scripts which Thai has "borrowed" from are the Mon, Burmese, as well as the Khun, Tham or Lanna scripts which were existent prior to the first known Thai writing.

Tham/Lanna

Khun

Burmese

Burma & Northern Thai Scripts Modern Thai Script

The Tai Tham script, also known as the Lanna script is used for three living languages: Northern Thai (that is, Kam Mu'ang), Tai Lü and Khün. In addition, the Lanna script is also used for Lao Tham (or old Lao) and other dialect variants in Buddhist palm leaves and notebooks. The script is also known as Tham or Yuan script.

The oldest Thai inscription dates from 1283. The Thai script is a syllabic alphabet based on the Brahmi script which was adapted to write the Siamese / Thai language. Its invention is attributed to King Ramkhamhaeng, who reigned over Sukhothai from 1275 to 1317.

The Ramkhamhaeng Stele

This stone, now in the National Museum in Bangkok, was allegedly discovered in 1833 by King Mongkut, who was a monk at the time, in Wat Mahathat. It should be noted that the authenticity of the stone - or at least portions of it - has been brought into question.[[1]] Piriya Krairiksh, an academic at the Thai Khadi Research institute, notes that the stele's treatment of vowels suggests that its creators had been influenced by European alphabet systems; thus, he concludes that the stele was fabricated by someone during the reign of Rama IV or shortly before. The matter is very controversial, since if the stone is in fact a fabrication, the entire history of the period will have to be re-written.[[2]]

Scholars are still divided over the issue about the stele's authenticity.[[3]] It remains an anomaly amongst contemporary writings, and in fact no other source refers to King Ramkhamhaeng by name. Some authors claim the inscription was a complete 19th-century fabrication, others claim that the first 17 lines are genuine, that the inscription was fabricated by King Lithai (a later Sukhothai king), and some scholars still believe very much in the inscription's authenticity.[[4]] The inscription and its image of a Sukhothai utopia remains central to Thai nationalism, and the suggestion that it may have been faked in the 1800s caused Michael Wright, a British scholar, to be threatened with deportation under Thailand's strict lese majeste laws .[[5]]

Phra Lewis, a western monk who has lived in Thailand for the past 8 years, went to great lengths to explain the construction of the Thai language and demonstrated that while the spoken language has evolved over time, ie the sound of the consonants changing, their position in the 'surd/sonant grid' has not altered accordingly. This was very helpful to my research work in this study as I had encountered some difficulty researching Thai words due to the many different spellings I encountered. There is in fact a Royally approved system of translation, but it is not always followed and there are numerous informal systems in wide use.

For example, the Sanskrit word Dharma is the Pali word Dhamma but the Thai's call it Tam, another example is the Thai word 'Bangsakun' which is actually Pamsakula in Pali. Written Thai is very structured and follows simple rules with no ambiguity as to the pronunciation like there is in English. The Thai language is tonal and that is where most problems arise for the foreigner. The old style of pronunciation was no doubt altered when the capital moved from Sukhothai in the north, to Ayuddhya in the central region. The letter ? (K) became G, the ? (C) became J and the ? (J) became CH, and so on.

The vowels were also altered slightly. Unless consonants are otherwise marked they carry an inherent vowel. In Indian languages this is normally an 'a' but in Thai the rules are slightly different. The inherent vowel is an 'o' but if the word has more than one syllable then the first inherent vowel is an 'a' and the second inherent vowel is an 'o'. The example below shows the word for road - Thanon

Before moving on to examine festivals and ceremonies I would like to look at a remarkable feature of the Thai language. For this information I am indebted to Phra Lewis who not only pointed it out but explained it to me as follows :-

The above 44 consonants of the Thai alphabet have been shown with their modern phonetic sounds. Some letters change sound change depending on where they are in the syllable. They have been shown horizontally in vagga's dependant upon where the sound is made. The first vagga is guttural, made in the throat. The last line are not shown in their vagga's.

The first vertical column should show the surd, the second column the surd aspirate, the third column shows the sonant and the forth shows the sonant aspirated. Column five is the nasal sound made. In the first vagga of the diagram we can see that the G and K sounds of modern Thai have switched positions and if one looks at the next vagga ie the palatal vagga, we can see the J has also moved. The monk has speculated that this happened when the Thais moved their capital to Ayuddhya.

The letters M, L, H in the chart indicates the 'class' of consonant ie middle , low and high. This should not be confused with the tones of the language. Looking down the first column we see all the letters are middle class, the next column are all high class and the remaining letters in the 5 vagga's are low class consonants. The consonants in the last, longer, line can also be placed in their vagga, ie Y would belong to the palatal vagga, H in the guttural etc. This class of consonant feature is unique to Thai but the grid is the format of the majority of Indian languages.

The king did not invent the grid but he may well have been the instigator for the format of the letters, a man in his position could no doubt summon the best minds in the Kingdom. Phra Lewis speculates that the need for a new script was prompted by the wish to write the Pali Canon. As the old Thai / Lao alphabet had only 18 consonants this would not be possible as Pali has 33 consonants. It was therefore necessary to add new letters for the sounds that did not exist is Thai. This is where the uniqueness of the script can show the root of the word for the Thai script was designed with this in mind.

The 'king' started with the basic grid and filled it with the letters existent in Thai. There were some gaps in the grid where Pali had sounds that Thai had no letters for, the aspirated G or the pallatal NY for instance. The first step taken was to add letters to fill in the gaps. These letters were (English letters give OLD pronunciation

The ingenious part was the addition of letters where Thai already had a letter for the existing Pali sound. The Thai's already had a letter for the aspirated K

(KH), but they added an additional letter ? (KH) to be used in Pali / Sanskrit words. The practice has continued up until very modern times with foreign 'loan'

words being spelt in Thai using the "new letters". This allows a person reading Thai

to tell if the word is of foreign origin. Most ingenious, some modern English words

may be able to trace their Greek or Latin roots from the spelling but this is not the

norm as it is with Thai. Those wishing to delete obsolete letters from the Thai

alphabet do not have a true understanding of its well thought out and practical

design. The additional letters means that Thai has 44 consonants whereas Pali only

has 33. The Thai letters used to write Pali in Thailand today should be pronounced

differently from spoken Thai but most Thai monks do not do this. After this had been

explained I found it a simple matter of looking at a grid chart in order to translate

Thai words into roman lettering such that I could research the words online. All of

this information was obtained from the monks personal notes and, after checking, I

have found it to be correct though I wish to point out I have no linguistic training.

The controversy over the Ramkhamhaeng Stele remains unresolved but that is of no concern to the study. The one thing that can be said for the 'inventor'(s ?) of the Thai script is that he or they were very intelligent and methodical in it's design. I personally favour a single person as committees tend to mess things up and this system, in its original form, was perfect. ( and Indian influenced )

Festivals and Ceremonies

The foreign visitors' perception of Thailand and the Thais is not gained from the language but from the visual aspects of Thai culture such as festivals and ceremonies. There are some public holidays which have no Hindu or Buddhist roots such as days commemorating past kings or celebrating the founding of the constitution. The study has omitted these and others which may have there roots in other foreign countries ie Chinese New Year.

To begin with I have chosen to look at three celebrated days which are definitely Buddhist in origin and are known as 'Puja' days.

Wisakha Puja Day

Wisakha Puja Day is a very important day in the Buddhist tradition, for it was on this day that Prince Siddhattha Gotama was born, 35 years later became the enlightened Buddha, and in another 45 years, passed away into total Nibbana (Parinibbana). In each case, these events took place on the full-moon day in the Wisakha month (usually in May).

Wisakha Puja Day is a great Buddhist holiday. It falls on the 15th day of the waxing moon in the 6th lunar month, i.e. full moon day. In Thailand, Wisakha Puja is celebrated throughout the country. On Wisakha Puja Day people put up religious flags outside their houses. They take part in ceremonies at temples and they make merit. They bring flowers, candles, and incense to pay respect to the Triple Gem, i.e. Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha (the community of followers). In the evening, people take part in candle-lit processions and walk clockwise around the main chapel of the temple three times. In the procession, each person carries flowers, three incense sticks and a lighted candle. The concept of walking clockwise around shrines etc is a Hindu / Indic practice - clockwise for auspicious occasions and anti-clockwise for inauspicious ones such as death.

Magha Puja Day

Magha Puja Day is one of the most important Buddhist celebrations in the Thai Calander. This day, which falls on the full moon day of the third lunar month (either the last week of February or early of March). marks the four great events that took place during Lord Buddha's lifetime, namely;

  1. 1250 Buddhist monks from different places came to pay homage to Lord Buddha at Valuwan Vihara in Rajgaha, the capital of Magaha State, each of his own initiative and without prior notification or appointment.
  2. all of them were the enlightened monks (Arahants)
  3. all of them had been ordained by the Buddha himself (Ehi Bhikkhu)
  4. They assembled on the full moon day of the third lunar month.

On the evening of that day, Lord Buddha gave the assembly a discourse "Ovadha Patimokha" laying down the principles of His Teachings summarised into three acts, i.e. to do good, to abstain from bad action and to purify the mind.

It was unclear as to when the Magha Puja Ceremony took place. However, in a guide book of ceremonies for the twelve months written by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), it is said that, "In the past, the Magha Puja was never performed, the ceremony has just been practised during the reign of King Mongkut (Rama IV)?"

Realizing the significance of this day, King Rama IV ordered the royal Magha Puja Ceremony to be performed in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in 1851 and this has continued up to the present day. In later years the ceremony was widely accepted and performed throughout the Kingdom. The day has been declared as a public holiday. Thai people go to the temple to make merit and perform religious activities in the morning and return to take part in the candlelit procession or "Wien Tien" in the evening. At this auspicious time, His Majesty the King will preside over the religious rites to mark the occasion at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and will later lead hundreds of people in a candlelit procession held within the temple's compound.

Asaha Puja Day

Asaha Puja means the ceremony in the eighth lunar month.

On the full moon day of the eighth lunar month, the Lord Buddha gave his first sermon and one of his followers became the first Buddhist monk. The ordained followers of the Buddha are collectively called the Sangha, (Asaha Puja is sometimes referred to as "Sangha Day".) During his first sermon, the Buddha talked about "The Middle Way", to be successful in Spiritual life, we should avoid the two extremes:

  1. Trying too hard, such as not eating or not sleeping enough and
  2. Not trying hard enough, such as eating and sleeping too much.

The Buddha also spoke about the Noble Eightfold Path. This path instructs the faithful to

  1. to live in a way that does not harm ourselves or others,
  2. to help ourselves and others and
  3. to purify the mind.

He advised the people to

Do good:

Avoid evil:

Purify the mind.

He gave eight guidelines to help people to live in this way, and they are commonly spoken of as the Noble Eightfold Path. He advised people to speak, act and earn their living in moral ways. He further advised them to practise meditation in order to purify their minds and gain deep wisdom (Panya in Thai).

These three days are very 'low key' as far as celebrations are concerned and a foreign visitor may not even be aware of them unless they choose to visit a temple or Wat. The next 'Buddhist' ceremony or festival to examine is the 'Robe Giving' ceremony of Kathina.

Kathin Ceremony

At the end of the three-month Rains Retreat (July to September / October), monks throughout the country are allowed to travel from place to place and are eligible to receive new robes in an annual presentation ceremony called "Thot Kathin". Besides new robes, Buddhist literature, kitchen equipment, financial contributions and building materials e.g. nails, hand-saws and hammers etc. are also presented to monks on this occasion.

In fact, the word "Thot" means "making an offering to the monk" and the word "Kathin" literary means the "embroidery frame" used in sewing the robes which, in those days, were collected from rags on dead bodies (pamsakula, rag robes) or rags found in the forset since clothes were not available in plenty as nowadays. Buddhist people regard the "Thot Kathin" ceremony as the most significant form of merit-making next to the ordination of their close kin. To sponsor a Kathin ceremony involves a lot of time, manpower and expense. Above all, an advance booking must be made with the Wat if a person wishes to be the sole sponsor of the Kathin ceremony but this may not be possible in all Wats, especially temples which are held in high esteem by many people. Nontheless, those who fail to be the sole sponsor of Kathin can also take part in the ceremony which, in this type, is known as "Kathin Samakki" or the "United Kathin".

Sometimes a Kathin group will travel for several hundred kilometers by bus, train, boat or even by plane to present the Kathin robes and other necessities to monks in remote temples or in other countries where Buddhist temples are established. People thus hold this merit-making festival not only for earning merit for themselves but also for enjoying a holiday free from the daily hectic life full of stress and strain in the city. During the Thot Kathin period, it is very common to see Kathin processions traveling to and fro throughout the country. In fact, anybody can take part in the event through the simple method of enclosing a small amount of money in the white envelope given by friends or relatives.

Songkran Festival

Songkran is a Sanskrit word in Thai form which means the entry of the sun into any sign of the Zodiac. But the Songkran in this particular instance is when the sun enters the sign of Aries or the Ram. Its full name is Maha Songkran or Major Songkran to distinguish it from the othes, though most Thais are totally unaware of this fact. Songkran is in fact the celebration of the vernal equinox similar to those of the Indian Holi Festival, the Chinese Ching Ming, and the Christian Festival of Easter. Due to the precession of the equinox the introduction of spring, ie when the sun crosses the equator, now occurs on or around the 21st of March.

For the Thai people it is simply their traditional New Year when they can enjoy their holidays to the full with no economic hindrance. Songkran begins on the 13th April and ends on the 15th April, (occasionally, in certain years, on the 16th April). The Songkran Festival is the most striking, for it is widely observed not only in this country but also in Burma, Cambodia and the Lao Republic.

On the eve of Songkran Day, i.e. on the 12th April, people clean their house and burn all of the refuse in the belief that anything bad belonging to the old year will be unlucky if left and carried on to the coming New Year. Early on the first day of Songkran, the 13th April, the people both young and old in their new clothing go to their local Wat or monastery to offer food to the monks. A long table is erected in the compound of the Wat where monk's alms bowls stand in a row on either side of the table. The people donate many types of food and dainties by placing these in the monks' alms bowls. In the afternoon of the same day there is a bathing ceremony of the Buddha images and in some wats this includes the abbot or statues of other famous monks of high regard. It is after this that the well-known "water throwing" begins. The bathing of images is done as ritualistic ceremony, which will be dealt with separately.

Thai people will go on this day, and the succeeding days, to pay their respects and ask blessings from their elders and respected seniors. They will pour scented water into the palms of the old people and often present them with small gifts. In previous times it was an actual bathing where the young people helped the old people to take a bath and to change their old clothing and put on the new clothes which the young people presented them as an act of respect to the aged on the occasion of the New Year.

An important thing to be done during the Songkran Festival is a religious service called Bangsakun (Pamsakula in Pali) performed in sacred memory to the dead. When a person died and was cremated, the remains were often placed in a chedi in the Wat. In later times a portion of the bones was sometimes kept in the house in a receptacle. On Songkran Day a religious service in memory to the dead may be officiated by monks at the place where the ashes and the bones have been deposited, or as in some localities the people bring their dead bones to a village wat in company with others where a joint memorial service is performed. In some parts of the country the guardian spirits of the village and town receive also their annual offerings on Songkran Days. Obviously there are reminiscences or traces of ancestor and animistic worship in by-gone days. The monks are presented with cloth, symbolizing the death shroud, which in olden times was cut up and used as "rag cloth" to make the robes of the monks.

Loy Krathong

The most colourful festival during the year is Loy Krathong wich is held on the full moon of the 12th lunar month, usually in November. This is a festival to pay respects to the Mother of Water and to ask forgiveness for polluting the water in the past year. Loy means to float and a krathong is a kind of bowl. A typical krathong is made using banana leaves and the base is from the stem of a banana plant. Incense sticks, candles and flowers are placed inside the krathong along with small denomination coins. (perhaps this acts as an encouragement to the people who have to remove them from the klongs!)

On the afternoon of the festival a parade normally takes place through the city or town. Krathongs of all shapes and sizes are placed on floats and carried by locals and their children. During the evening, thousands of people go down to their local river or klong (canal) to float their krathongs. They light the candles and incense sticks, say a prayer and then float it on the water. It is a wonderful sight with flickering lights bobbing up and down on the river, much more interesting to witness than to read about.There is a Loy Krathong song, (in Thai language) which is often played throughout the day. Below is a translation of this popular song:

November full moon shines,

Loy Krathong, Loy Krathong

and the water's high in the river and local klong

Loy Krathong is here and everybody's full of cheer

We're together at the klong,

Each one with his krathong

As we push away we pray,

We can see a better day

The Loy Krathong festival dates back to the period of the Sukhothai Kingdom, 700 years ago. It marked the end of the rainy season and the main rice harvest. It is based on a Hindu tradition of thanking the water god(s). The farmers of Sukhothai held a festival of floating candles.

One year, a beautiful woman called Noppamas, who was the chief royal consort, made special "lanterns" for the festival. She made them from banana leaves and shaped them like lotus flowers. The king was suitably impressed with what he saw, and announced that krathongs would be floated every year from then on. Today, in memory of her and her 'innovation', there is a beauty contest called "The Noppamas Queen Contest".

Laying the Foundation Stone

Thai people like to consult the astrology charts (and / or Buddhist monks though this is spoken of as a 'low art' in the Brahmajala Sutta) in order to find an auspicious time to do something important. This can be anything from the day of a marriage or when to make a business deal. The date and time for starting to build a house is also important. A special ceremony is arranged for erecting the first pillar or foundation stone. Previously I had the privilege to attend the ceremony for the laying of the foundation stone for the Paknam Tower. This is going to be a 139 meter high tower with amazing views over Bangkok and the Gulf of Thailand.

Thai people are mainly Buddhists, but ceremonies like this one are conducted by Brahmin priests dressed in white. During the ceremony a priest asks forgiveness from the guardian spirit of the land. He also asks the spirits permission to build on the land. This was followed by offerings for the guardian spirits. Although this ceremony is mainly Brahmin, nine monks were also invited to do some chanting. Local dignitaries offered food to the monks in order to make merit during this event. I was reminded of the fact that many Thai's see no conflict of interest by partaking in both Brahmin and Buddhist ceremonies, even simultaneously. The Thais themselves would rather make auspicious offerings twice than not make them at all.

According to Thai astrology, there are three days of the week when you should never start construction of a building. These are Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday. For the consecration ceremony of the Paknam Tower the date chosen was Friday 18th May 2007. The time for the actual laying of the foundation stone was set for exactly 2:19 p.m. The number "nine" is considered auspicious by Thai people. Everything is done in multiples of threes or nines wherever possible. There were nine monks and nine different kinds of food offerings for them.

As well as the marble foundation stone, nine symbolic bricks were used during the ceremony. Three made of gold, three made of silver and three made of an alloy. There were also nine symbolic pegs made of nine different types of wood. In addition to these items, there were jasmine garlands, flowers with popped rice and one baht coins which were all utilized during the ceremony.

After the conch shell had been blown and the small drums sounded, it was time for the foundation stone laying ceremony to begin. Khun Anuwat Methiwibunwut, the Governor of Samut Prakan Province hammered one of the pegs into the sand. Each of the dignitaries then took turns hammering the remaining pegs into place, followed by pouring of the cement.

The nine bricks had been laid in a star pattern where the pegs had been driven into the sand. Additional cement was then poured on top. At this point all of the senior dignitaries jointly placed the marble foundation stone onto the bricks. Following this, they then took turns to sprinkle flowers and coins onto the marble slab. Once the main ceremony was over, the local people, who had been patiently waiting and watching everything, were allowed to come forward to do the same with their own flowers and coins.

There were two identical copies of this foundation stone. I presume that one will be covered in cement while the second one will be placed in a prominent place once the building has been completed. The photo below shows the dignitaries placing the marble foundation stone onto the bricks

Ploughing Ceremony

The Ploughing Ceremony, which is observed every year, is an age old tradition, and according to the Thais it dates back to the Sukhothai Period. It was observed in the Ayuttaya Period and passed on to the Rattanakosin Period. The Ploughing Ceremony is held at Sanam Luang in Bangkok during May and it signals the start of the planting season in this country where the majority of the population are farmers. The ceremony is aimed at making predictions about the year's crops.

In the reign of King Rama IV, the Ploughing Ceremony was held in the ancient capital of Ayuttaya as well as in Phetchaburi. Later, it was held on a field, called Som Poy, in the outskirts of Bangkok, it was at this time Buddhist elements were added to the previously Brahmin-dominated proceedings, these took place at the temple of the Emerald Buddha on the eve of the ceremony. This "Buddhist" part of the ceremony involved the processing of Khantarat Buddha images of the past reigns, along with citations blessing such grains as rice, glutinous rice and sorghum, sesame seeds, taro, potato, gourd seeds, melons and sweet basil.

A ceremonial pavilion was built at Sanam Luang for the occasion, which was participated by the Lord of the Ploughing Ceremony (Phra Raek Na) assisted by four Celestial Maidens (Thepi) carrying gold and silver baskets full of grains. Before the start of the ceremony, the Lord of the Ploughing Ceremony and the four maidens were anointed on the foreheads and in the palms, and given a conch and bel leaves. Selected from among high-ranking officials of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, the Phya Raek Na wore a ceremonial ring with nine different gemstones which the King had given him.

The ceremony in the reign of King Rama IV was performed in grand style, with a processing of 500 people led by the Lord of the Ploughing Ceremony in resplendent attire and carrying his ceremonial sword.

Before the start of the ceremony, the Lord of Ploughing Ceremony was offered three pieces of loincloth from which he chose one. The cloths were of different lengths -- four, five and six kheub (one kheub is about six inches) -- and the length of the cloth that be chose determined the amount of rain for that year: the shortest piece indicated a year with plenty of water, the longest one foretold little rain, and the medium-sized one was indicative of a balanced supply of water, abundant rice and healthy crops.

Bathing Ceremony

The people attending the Wat at Songkran bring with them candles, joss sticks, flowers and small bottles of Thai scented water called "nam ob" or water saturated with perfumes. At the wat shrine each devotee lights a candle and three joss sticks and places them together with a single flower or a bouquet in a receptacle in front of Buddha's altar.

The worshippers then make obeisance to the Buddha by partly prostrating themselves thrice before the image in a prescribed form. Each worshipper kneels with his hands placed palm to palm raising them to the forehead in a worshipful attitude and then prostrates himself on the floor with the hands now separated to allow the forehead to touch the floor between the palms. Such salutation is called "benchangapradit" from the Sanskrit "panchangapratishtha" (fivefold body worship, i.e.. with the forehead, two palms and two knees resting on the floor). Such salutation among the Thai is the highest form of respect. Salutation by full prostration on the ground is not practiced in Thailand or other Theravada countries.

After worshipping in this manner, a little quantity of the scented water is poured on the hands of the Buddha image. Such a ritualistic act is called in Thai "Song Nam Phra Putha Rup" (bathing the Buddha image.) Not only do the Buddha images in Thailand receive the ceremonial bath, but elders of the family and elder monks may receive it too.

In Thailand especially among the upper class, people are want to make a traditional call on their elders to pay their respects during Songkran. This they do by pouring scented water into the palms of the elder who will then duly rub it lightly on his head and face. The elder, in the old days, would then be presented by the visitors with a "phanung" (loin cloth) and a "pha khao ma" for a male or a "pha hom" for a female, both of which constituted everyday wear in those days. Nowadays the elder is presented with a towel, a box of handkerchiefs, a box of soap or other such articles and sometimes with a bottle of scented water. After the presentation the elder will bestow his blessing and best wishes upon the relatives for the New Year.

A gift of a bottle of scented water is especially appreciated by the older generation who are want to smear themselves during the hot season with a preparation of soft chalk powder called "din saw phong" mixed with scented water which is refreshing to the skin. Sometimes the powder is ready-mixed with attar of roses and may be applied lightly with a towel or handkerchief. Such toilet preparation is called "paeng sod" or fresh toilet powder.

In the old days, the ceremonial bath was the regular family thing. The elder would seat himself on a broad bench. The children would assist him in the bathing by pouring the scented water on him. They also would furnish him with a new set of clothing to be worn after the bath. Further they would present him with the traditional candles, joss sticks and flowers emblems denoting the highest respect among the Thai people.

Water Blessing / Nam Mon

Lustral water is water that has been infused with magical powers or has received a blessing from monks during a sacred ceremony called "Nam Mon". Thais believe that those who drink lustral water or have it sprinkled on their head, the most sacred part of the body, will be blessed.

Lustral water is traditionally made from underground water contained in a bronze pot. Buddhist monks can use their alms bowls to hold the lustral water. A wax candle is often on the rim of the bowl in which lustral water is being prepared. As drops of wax fall into the bowl, disease, sorrow and evil are believed to be washed away. Gold leaves, Bermuda grass and even lotuses may be placed in the bowl to increase its magical powers.

The most sacred lustral water is made with four elements: Earth, Water, Fire and Wind. Earth is represented by the drops of wax, water by that in the bowl, fire by the candle flame and wind by the extinguishments of the candle. A sacred white thread or "Saisin" passes from the Buddha image and through the hands of each of the chanting monks during the ceremony.

Hair Shaving Ceremony

The first part of monastic ordination is the hair shaving. Prior to this, the postulate may have paid respect to his dead ancestors and then bathed the feet of his elders and his parents. The young monk to be will then prostarte himself at the feet of his elders and other relations, who will then all take turns in cutting a piece of his hair. At the same time they gave him a blessing for a prosperous future. A monk then takes over to cut off the remainder of his hair. No part of the hair is allowed to drop to the ground and it is collected, normally on banana or lotus leaves. The leaves and hair will later be placed in the river by family members as a further part of their auspicious wishes for the person who ordained. The head in Thailand being held in high regard this act is not seen as polluting the river.

Cutting of the hair is symbolic. In the old days, long hair was a sign of royalty. Siddharta Gotama, before he became the Buddha, cut off his hair as a renouncement of all his worldly goods. Shaving the eyebrows is a Thai tradition, (A Thai king instigated this measure to prevent Burmese spies infiltrating or attending his Royal Court proceedings!) Monks in other countries do not follow this practice.

Next, everyone takes turns in pouring water over his head and body, again giving him a blessing. After a shower, he will the change into his white clothes and sometimes an outer garment with a gold trimmings will be worn over plain white cloth. At this point he is now known as "naak" or "naga" in Pali / Sanskrit. This is a mythical serpent from Indian legends. The story related in the Pali Canon is that one day the serpent disguised himself as a human in order to be ordained as a monk. When the Buddha found out, he told the naga that only humans can become monks. The naga agreed to leave the monkhood but asked the Buddha for one favour. He asked that in future, all young men who were about to be ordained be called "naga". The Buddha consented to this and the term is used in the present day.

After the hair shaving ceremony is over the young man is often paraded around the local area. The thinking behind this is to show the spirits that he was about to become a monk. Along the way he will stop at shrines to pay respects. As far as I can tell, this has nothing to do with Buddhism. This is quite typical in Thai ceremonies which mix together both Buddhism and Brahmin. Once the spirits have been informed of the upcoming ordination the young man will return to the temple for monastic procedures and rituals concerning his ordination.

Building Sand Pagoda's

It is the custom in some wats to hold a festival of building "phrasai." Phrasai" an abbreviated form of "phra chedi sai" (sand-pagodas). " Phrachedi" means pagoda and "sai" sand. This festival takes place on an open space in the Wat compound. The sand to be used for the occasion is provided by the temple and piled up nearby. The pagoda builders are mostly women and children but everyone is welcome. They will bring with them candles, joss sticks, flowers and banners or buy them from the stalls set up in the compound. Buying these articles from the wat is regarded as "tham bun" ("merit making"). The people will then fetch sand in silver bowls which they have brought along with them and carry them to the ceremonial ground and start building a sand pagoda / chedi.

The size of the pagoda is undetermined and may be simple or elaborate. The sand is mixed with water to hold it together when used to build the pagoda. A coin and a leaf of the religious fig tree (Bodhi tree) will be buried inside the sand pagoda. When finished the pagoda is sprinkled with scented water and decorated with the flags and banners. The base of the pagoda is then covered with a small piece of yellow or red cloth and lite candles and joss sticks and flowers are stuck around the sand pagoda as an offering. Some of these pagodas, usually the big ones, are beautifully decorated with miniature ceremonial latticed fences surrounding them.

Ceremony for the Dead

This ceremony is a religious service that is performed in memory of the dead. It is really one of the important duties that should be done during the Songkran Festival. When a person died and was cremated, the ashes and charred bones were buried at the root of a sacred fig-tree in a temple. Such trees are to be found in the grounds of almost every temple. It is a symbol of the Lord Buddha's enlightenment for under such a tree did Buddha sit in meditation and receive his enlightenment. If a person is able to erect a Pra Chedi or pagoda in the temple, the ashes and bones are then deposited in it. In later times a portion of the bones was sometimes kept in the house in a receptacle.

On Songkran Day a religious service in sacred memory to the dead may be officiated by a monk or monks at the place where the ashes and the bones have been deposited, or as in some localities the people bring their dead bones to a village temple in company with others where a joint memorial service is performed. In some parts of the country the guardian spirits of the village and town receive also their annual offerings on Songkran Days. Obviously there are reminiscences or traces of ancestor and animistic worship in by-gone days

The man in the photo is burning some pieces of paper that has all the names of his relations written on it. The reason is to share some of the merit with them.

Traditionally funerals last for a week. Crying is discouraged during the funeral, so as not to worry the spirit of the deceased. Many activities surrounding the funeral are intended to make merit for the deceased. Buddhist scriptures may be printed and distributed in the name of the deceased, and gifts are usually given to a local temple. Monks are invited to chant prayers that are intended to provide merit for the deceased, as well as to provide protection against the possibility of the dead relative returning as a malicious spirit. A picture of the deceased from his/her best days will often be displayed next to the coffin. Often, a thread is connected to the corpse or coffin which is held by the chanting monks during their recitation; this thread is intended to transfer the merit of the monks' recitation to the deceased. The corpse is cremated, and the urn with the ash is usually kept in a chedi in the local temple or the home.

This ceremony is applicable to the "common" people ie the majority of Thai society; the format is very similar in all temples and Wats throughout the Kingdom. The regional or local differences may be incorporated depending upon the wishes of the dead or the living relatives. Thai people of high rank and other dignitaries normally have a fairly high profile ceremony and the most noticeable thing apparent to a westerner is the lack of tears. In Buddhism, death is accepted as part of the natural process and many Thai funerals have a distinct party atmosphere leading up to them, if not on the day.

In the case of a Royal Cremation Ceremony the whole affair is taken to a new level and any signs of a 'party' atmosphere are distinctly absent.

Princess Galyani Vadhana of Thailand

(6 May 1923 - 2 January 2008)

Princess of Thailand and the elder sister of King Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII) and King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX). She was also a direct granddaughter of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). King Bhumibol Adulyadej's only sister, Princess Wattana, who died from cancer in January at age 84, was mourned by millions in Thailand. The elaborate funeral, nearly a year in the making, involved thousands of soldiers in dress uniform and a gilded, ornate crematorium. This majestic tribute, Thais believe, befits the princess' place in the revered monarchy. The king and queen presided over the actual cremation in a private ceremony but the public participation was widely reported in many different media.

It was the first full royal funeral since 1996, when the king's mother Srinagarindra was cremated It had been performed for only four royals during King Bhumibol Adulyadej's 62-year reign. A rare glimpse of the pageantry of the House of Chakri, the royal funeral tradition dated back to Ayuthaya period is influenced by 1,000-year-old India's Hindu traditions that treat kings as incarnations or descendants of deities and Buddhism's merit-making ceremonies. The 6-day funeral ceremony and ritual officially started on Friday November 14, 2008, at the Grand Palace, and terminated on November 19 when Galyani's ashes were transferred to a nearby temple.

Funeral Temple of Princess Galyani Vadhana

The ceremonies for the Princess, the full mourning period runs from 13th to 19th November. After the mourning is over, the funeral temple, temporarily constructed at Sanam Luang by the Grand Palace after months of work by hundreds of craftsmen, will be demolished. Onlookers can only see the temple from the pavement that runs around the oval parade ground, as it is shut to the public.

Thousands of mourners turned out to watch the ceremony, which came a day after more than 100,000 Thais attended the lavish US$8.9 million (S$13.5 million) cremation of the princess, the elder sister of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. On Saturday 15th, three processions (from the royal throne hall where she had lain in state for ten months) were composed of 3,294 soldiers, flanked by conch shell-blowers, drummers and musicians. Two of the processions involved Phra Yannamas Sam Lam Khan, an 18th century seven metric ton palanquin carried by 60 men. The two-century-old sweet-smelling sandalwood golden teak urn held Galyani's remains in upright position, on top of an elaborately decorated 14-ton golden carriage called Phra Maha Phichai Ratcharot.

Maha Vajiralongkorn, Crown Prince of Thailand and Somchai Wongsawat, inter alia, both dressed in white ceremonial dress took part in the procession in the Sanam Luang parade ground. In Uttaradit, black-dressed Thais flocked to the royally-sponsored Wat Klong Poh in the provincial sea to place 400,000 sandalwood flowers at the crematorium. At 10 pm Saturday, King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, with the help of a hydraulic tappet, set light to a 40m (130ft) high funeral pyre, modeled on Mount Meru.

The $5.7m (£3.8m) temporary royal crematorium, a complex of pavilions, constructed on the Sanam Luang parade ground 7 months, had been lavishly decorated with flowers, garlands and carved banana stalks. Soldiers pulled the royal chariot carrying the funeral urn slowly past the Grand Palace to Sanam Luang, as Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn and Princess Sirindhorn followed, paying final respects to their aunt. After the cremation, the funeral buildings will be torn down, as reminders of a beloved royal's death. Galyani's spirit will then return home to Mount Meru, where all deities eternally live, as per Hindu beliefs.

The Giant Swing (Thai:, Sao Ching Cha)

Swing Ceremony

The Ceremony of Tri-yampawai or the Swing Ceremony was one of the 12 royal ceremonies held in each of the months of the Thai lunar calendar. Originally held in the first lunar month, it was moved to the second lunar month in the early Rattanakosin period at the beginning of the 19th century. The ceremony was a Bhramin new year's ceremony and lasted for 10 days.

According to an ancient Hindu epic, after Brahma created the world he sent Shiva to look after it. When Shiva descended to the earth, Naga serpents wrapped around the mountains in order to keep the earth in place. When Shiva found the earth solid, the Nagas moved to the seas in celebration. The Swing Ceremony is a re-enactment of this story. The pillars of the Giant Swing represent the mountains, while the circular base of the swing represents the earth and the seas. In the ceremony Brahmins swing, trying to grab a bag of coins placed on one of the pillars.

History

The Giant Swing is a religious structure in Bangkok, Thailand, Phra Nakhon district, located in front of Wat Suthat temple. It was formerly used an old Brahmin ceremony, and is is one of the country's most significant objects and is regarded as a symbol of prosperity and stability as well as being one of Bangkok's tourist attractions. The Giant Swing was originally constructed in 1784 in front of the Devasathan shrine by King Rama I. During the reign of Rama II the swing ceremony was discontinued as the swing had been structurally damaged by lightning. In 1920 it was renovated and moved to its current location in order to make space for a gas plant. The ceremony was again performed until 1935, when it was discontinued after several fatal accidents.

The last renovations were carried out in 1959, and after 45 years of exposure to the elements the wooden pillars were showing signs of serious damage. A major reconstruction began in April 2005. Six teak tree trunks were used to build the structure using wood harvested from Phrae province. The two used for the main structure of the swing are over 3.5 meters in circumference and over 30m in height. The remaining four are used for support and are 2.30m in circumference and 20m in height. The swing was taken down in late October 2006 and the work finished late December of the same year. The rebuilt swing was dedicated in royal ceremonies presided over by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej in September 2007. The timbers of the original swing are preserved in the National Museum.

Teak Used for Giant Swing Cloned

One million people will each receive one of the auspicious trees from His Majesty the King

Thanks to DNA technology, one million Thais will each be given a golden-teak tree cloned from the 99-year-old tree used to make the new Giant Swing. Somwong Trakulroong, director of the National Centre of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (Biotec) DNA laboratory, yesterday announced the success in decoding the DNA fingerprint of the Giant Swing teak. ''After obtaining the DNA fingerprint, we have used tissue culture to generate the new plants, which have started to grow fresh leaves. DNA fingerprinting technology is employed to assure all recipients will have [clones from] the same auspicious tree,'' he said.

Six teak trees, each about 25 metres long and 50 centimetres in diameter, were obtained from Phrae's Den Chai district to build the new Giant Swing. From these, Biotec picked for the cloning project the 99-year-old tree, which was very tall and bore no insect marks or other blemishes. The cloned trees will be presented to His Majesty the King for distribution to his subjects, said Mr Somwong. The first lot of about 200,000 cloned trees should be available about two years from now, he said.

Buffalo Racing

Running of the buffaloes: The jockey rides bareback astride the water buffalo's rump, slaps him with a switch and bumps along on his sprinting steed down a 130-meter (427-foot) strip. That is assuming the buffalo is co-operating. Buffaloes tend to prefer wallowing around muddy rice fields than stampeding down a race track, which some demonstrate by bucking their riders before while, a joking announcer pokes fun at the ones who can't stay on their beasts.

Thousands of people Sunday flock to this entertainment in downtown Chonburi, 70 kilometers (44 miles) south of Bangkok, at the annual water buffalo festival. The day's events, which also includes a buffalo beauty pageant, a Miss Farmer beauty contest and a comic buffalo costume contest, perfectly exemplified a favored Thai attitude to life — "sanuk," meaning fun.

The festival was started as a social event for farmers who gathered from around the country in Chonburi to trade their goods. In the olden days they used to race on farm buffaloes, and the explanation for this - "It would teach them to work faster in the fields." Farm work has been mechanized in present day Thailand, but the buffalo-running tradition has continued.

" None of the buffaloes that race are farm buffaloes, we raise these buffaloes just to race them. They don't work at all," said Boonyeun Chamchap, who also has buffaloes tilling the family sugar cane fields. "Nowadays, farm buffaloes are in the beauty pageant." The day's grand prize was 5,000 baht (US$114), while runners-up won farm equipment. "Our fastest one cost us 80,000 baht (US$1,800). We definitely don't get our money's worth, but we have a great time racing them," she said.

This is definitely not a Hindu or Buddhist tradition but solely cultural.

The Emerald Buddha

The city of Bangkok (or Rattanakosin) was established by King Rama I as his capital in 1782. Determined to observe the tradition of constructing a Buddhist temple in the compound of the Royal Palace, which had been the practice since the Sukhothai Period, King Rama I (Phra Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke) had the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) constructed in order to house the Emerald Buddha which he had taken from Vientiane in Laos. The construction took two years to complete and the famous image was then moved from the Thonburi Capital to the present location in 1784.

The Emerald Buddha is actually carved from a large piece of green jadeite. The lap of the image is 48.3 cms. wide and the height, including the base, is 66 cms. It is in a seated position with the right leg resting on the left one. However, there is no clear evidence to prove from where the image originated or who sculpted it but it first appeared on record in 15th century in Chiang Rai. Judging from its style, it seems to be from the Chiang Saen Period.

In 1778 during the reign of King Taksin of Thonburi, General Chakri, who later succeeded King Taksin as Rama I, captured Vientiane and brought the Emerald Buddha back to Thailand. With the establishment of Bangkok as his capital, the Emerald Buddha was installed in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and has remained there ever since.

King Rama I had two royal robes made for the Emerald Buddha, one to be worn in summer and one for the rainy season. Later King Rama III added another one for winter. The three robes are still solemnly changed at the beginning of each season by His Majesty the King. I had not intended to include the Coronation ceremony as I was unaware of any religious connotations related to the ceremony. The research about the Emerald Buddha has provided me with details very pertinent to the study and I have included the following information.

Coronation Ceremony

Prior to the reign of King Rama IV (King Mongkut), there was no coronation ceremony in Thailand, there was only private ceremony held by high ranking officials to celebrate their Royal Regalia and positions in the 6th lunar month. His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej was crowned as Rama IX, the 9th king of the Chakri dynasty, on 5th May 1950. The anniversary of this day has been observed as a public holiday ever since. Coronation was an auspicious occasion but thought that it would be dificult to explain the meaning of the coronation day to his subjects in detail, he thus called this day as a "ceremony to commemorate the Royal Regalia" but was quite similar to that of a coronation. On that day (the 13th of the full moon in the 6th lunar month), following day monks were invited to have meal at the Dusit Maha Prasart Throne Hall in Grand Palace.

During the reign of the present king, the ceremony is performed for three days. The first day falls on 3 May in which the following ceremony will be performed; the king performs a merit-making ceremony at the Audience Hall of Amarindra in dedication to the deceased kings while Buddhist monks chant, give a sermon and perform a requiem on the royal ashes of the deceased kings.

On 4 May, the Coronation Ceremonies begin with the proclamation of the Coronation Day read by the Chief of Brahmin priests followed by an evening chanting performed by Buddhist monks. Finally, 5 May is the actual date of the ceremony in which food is to be offered to monks and followed by a celebration of the Royal Regalia. On this day, His Majesty the King also presents the royal decorations to the people who have made a valuable contribution to the country. In the evening the King conducts another sacred ceremony, changing the yellow cloth on the Emerald Buddha.

Marriage

In the world of Theravada Buddhism marriage is regarded as a civil contract, not as a spiritual or religious union. Thus there is no standard Buddhist liturgy for marriage. You may simply include whatever texts or passages you and your spouse-to-be find inspiring

Thai marriage ceremonies between Buddhists are generally divided into two parts: a Buddhist component, which includes the recitation of prayers and the offering of food and other gifts to monks and images of the Buddha, and a non-Buddhist component rooted in folk traditions, which centers on the couple's family. In former times, it was unknown for Buddhist monks to be present at any stage of the marriage ceremony itself. As monks were required to attend to the dead during funerals, their presence at a marriage (which was associated with fertility, and intended to produce children) was considered a bad omen. Monks have no legal authority to marry people in Thailand - this must be done by civil authorities, the monks are simply providing a blessing service.

A couple would seek a blessing from their local temple before or after being married, and might consult a monk for astrological advice in setting an auspicious date for the wedding, even though the Brahmajala Sutta specifically speaks against this. The non-Buddhist portions of the wedding would take place away from the temple, and would often take place on a separate day. In modern times, these prohibitions have been significantly relaxed. It is not uncommon for a visit to a temple to be made on the same day as the non-Buddhist portions of a wedding, or even for the wedding to take place within the temple. While a division is still commonly observed between the "religious" and "secular" portions of a wedding service, it may be as simple as the monks present for the Buddhist ceremony departing to take lunch once their role is complete.

During the Buddhist component of the wedding service, the couple first bow before the image of the Buddha. They then recite certain basic Buddhist prayers or chants (typically including taking the Three Refuges and the Five Precepts), and light incense and candles before the image. The parents of the couple may then be called upon to 'connect' them, by placing upon the heads of the bride and groom twin loops of string or thread that link the couple together. The couple may then make offerings of food, flowers, and medicine to the monks present. Cash gifts (usually placed in an envelope) may also be presented to the temple at this time.

The monks may then unwind a small length of thread that is held between the hands of the assembled monks. They begin a series of recitations of Pali scriptures intended to bring merit and blessings to the new couple. The string terminates with the lead monk, who may connect it to a container of water that will be 'sanctified' for the ceremony. Merit is said to travel through the string and be conveyed to the water; a similar arrangement is used to transfer merit to the dead at a funeral, further evidence of the weakening of the taboo on mixing funerary imagery and trappings with marriage ceremonies. Blessed water may be mixed with wax drippings from a candle lit before the Buddha image and other unguents and herbs to create a 'paste' that is then applied to the foreheads of the bride and groom to create a small 'dot', similar to the marking sometimes made with red ochre on Hindu devotees. The bride's mark is created with the butt end of the candle rather than the monk's thumb, in keeping with the Vinaya prohibition against touching women. The highest-ranking monk present may elect to say a few words to the couple, offering advice or encouragement. The couple may then make offerings of food to the monks, at which point the Buddhist portion of the ceremony is concluded.

The Thai dowry system is known as the 'Sin Sodt'. Traditionally, the groom will be expected to pay a sum of money to the family, to compensate them and to demonstrate that the groom is financially capable of taking care of their daughter. Sometimes, this sum is purely symbolic, and will be returned to the bride and groom after the wedding has taken place. In India the dowry is paid by the family of the bride

Summary of Buddhist Ceremonies

Buddhist ceremonies and rituals, may not appeal to Buddhist purist who wish to restrict the designation "Buddhism" exclusively to the teachings of the Buddhist scripture. The fact remains, however, that the practices and observances described below justly claim an integral place within the 'living' Buddhism as practiced by its adherents. It has been a phenomenon in the history of Buddhism (and Hinduism for that matter) that whenever the religion was introduced to a new culture, it assimilated and adapted in ways that harmonized with that peoples own social and cultural values. In the case of Buddhism this has happened in every country to which it spread, and Thailand is no exception.

Though the study focuses on Buddhism as practiced in Thailand, the same basic round of rituals and ceremonies, with regional variations, can be found in the other Theravada Buddhist countries, such as Burma and Laos. The Buddha also encouraged a devotional attitude when he recommended pilgrimages to the four places that can inspire a faithful devotee:ie, the place where he was born, where he attained Enlightenment, the place where he preached the first sermon, and the place where he attained Parinibbana (Digha Nikaya.ii,140).

Ritual acts undertaken and performed by Buddhists may be broadly classified into three types:

  1. Acts performed for the acquisition of merit (e.g., offerings made in the name of the Buddha) calculated to provide a basis for achieving Nibbana, release from the cycle of becoming (samsara); such acts of merit are, at the same time, expected to offer semi-temporal rewards of comfort and happiness here and in the heavenly worlds in future lives.
  2. Acts directed towards securing worldly prosperity and averting calamities , e.g., pirit chanting, bodhi-puja, etc.
  3. Rituals that have been adopted from folk religion.

In formal or ritualistic worship, the articles of offering (candles, flowers etc) are first respectfully placed on the altar in front of a statue of the Buddha or shrine. Next, the devotee clasps his hands in the gesture of worship (anjali) and recites various stanzas and formulas, making the offerings formally given. Every act of Buddhist worship begins with the formula of homage to the Buddha, Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammasambuddhassa

The physical postures adopted may be:-

kneeling (with one or both knees)

cross-legged posture (pallanka)

squatting (ukkutika) or standing

The veneration of the Bodhi-tree

(pipal tree: ficus religiosa)

This is often misinterpreted by westerners as tree worship or animistic belief in tree spirits.indeed the ritualistic worship of trees as abodes of tree deities (rukkha-devata) was widely prevalent in ancient India even before the advent of Buddhism. This is exemplified by the well-known case of Sujata's offering of milk-rice to the Bodhisattva, who was seated under a banyan tree on the eve of his Enlightenment, in the belief that he was the deity living in that tree. However, it should also be noted that the Bodhi-tree received veneration in India even before it assumed this Buddhist significance.[(]

The Bodhi tree today receives worship and respect as a symbol of the Buddha himself, a tradition which can be traced back to the Ananda Bodhi-tree at Jetavana of the Buddha's own time. The Vibhanga Commentary (p.349) informs us that a bhikkhu who enters the courtyard of the Bodhi-tree should venerate


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