Aspects of Thai Buddhist 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.
Almsround by the Monks
Arts and Crafts
Boat Races / Royal Barge Procession
Elephants & Buffaloes
Isan / Isarn
Mai Pen Rai !
Offerings / Merit Making
Respect for Royalty
Temples / Shrines
Thai Smile / Friendliness
The Wai ( Thai Greeting )
Thai Festivals & Ceremonies
Thai Dance / Thai Dress
Thai Food / Fruit Sculpture
Thai Massage / Traditional Thai medicine
Thai music / musical instruments
Tuk Tuk ( 3 wheel vehicle)
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
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.
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.[] 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.[]
Scholars are still divided over the issue about the stele’s authenticity.[] 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.[] 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 .[]
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;
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.
all of them were the enlightened monks (Arahants)
all of them had been ordained by the Buddha himself (Ehi Bhikkhu)
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:
Trying too hard, such as not eating or not sleeping enough and
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
to live in a way that does not harm ourselves or others,
to help ourselves and others and
to purify the mind.
He advised the people to
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Acts directed towards securing worldly prosperity and averting calamities , e.g., pirit chanting, bodhi-puja, etc.
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 the tree, behaving with all humility as if he were in the presence of the Buddha. Thus one of the main items of worship is the Bodhi tree, especially the one at the Maha-Bodhi temple in Bodh-Gaya in India, the place of the Buddha’s enlightenment.
In their religious observances the (Thai) Buddhists have adopted from Indian tradition the use of the lunar calendar. The four phases of the moon are the pre-new-moon day, the half-moon of the waxing fortnight, the full moon, and the half-moon of the waning fortnight, with the full-moon day treated as the most auspicious of the four phases. The most important religious observances are held on full-moon days and the lesser ones in conjunction with the other phases. In the Buddhist calendar, the full moon, is regarded as the culmination of the month
Pirit or paritta is a collective term designating a set of protective chants sanctioned by the Buddha for the use of both laymen and bhikkhus. Paritta-chanting is a very popular ceremony among the Buddhists. The essence of the paritta ceremony consists in the ritualistic chanting of certain Pali texts selected from the canonical scriptures. The use of protective spells — variously known as paritta, rakkha, mantra, dharani, kavaca, etc. — against various dangers has been a common practice among the Indians from very early times.The Buddha himself is said to have adopted the practice on several occasions. The public recitation of the Ratana Sutta at Vesali is the best known instance.
This ritual chanting may even invite all the deities, the invitation — which is a command from the Sangha (sanghanatti) and hence not to be turned down — is addressed residing in the vicinity and to all the deities residing at the religious places of worship, requesting them to partake of the merits derived from the paritta ceremony and to help dispel all evil and bring about prosperity to everybody.
The ceremony of paritta-chanting is very often accompanied by another important ceremony, that of almsgiving. It is generally known as sangha-dana, meaning “the alms given to the community of monks.” This ceremony is usually performed on important occasions in the same way as the paritta ceremony, ie at such events as a marriage, a house-warming, a birth, or death anniversaries, etc. At least four monks who have obtained higher ordination (upasampada) must participate for the ‘dana’ to become valid as a full-fledged sanghika-dana
As we have noted earlier in the study, the Brahmins originally had only 3 priests to recite the Vedas and a 4th was added later to ‘incorporate’ the traditional or magical incantation part of the recitation. The early Buddhists in India were probably under social pressure to have at least the same number in attendance at their recitals. In Thailand 9 is the preferred number but not less than 4 in accordance with the monastic vinaya rules.
Among Buddhists death is regarded as an occasion of major religious significance, both for the deceased and for the survivors. For the deceased it marks the moment when the transition begins to a new mode of existence within the round of rebirths. When death occurs all the kammic forces that the dead person accumulated during the course of his or her lifetime become activated and set about determining the next rebirth. For the living, death is a powerful reminder of the Buddha’s teaching on impermanence; it also provides an opportunity to assist the deceased person as he or she fares on to the new existence.
Both aspects of death — the message of impermanence, and the opportunity to help the departed loved one — find expression in the Buddhist funeral rites
Part of this ritual consists of the offering of a length of new white cloth to the monks. The cloth, called a pamsukula — literally, a dust-heap cloth — is intended to be cut into pieces and then stitched into a robe. When accepting the cloth the monks chant the following passage
Anicca vata sankhara, uppadavayadhammino.
Uppajjitva nirujjhanti tesam vupasamo sukho.
Impermanent alas are formations, subject to rise and fall.
Having arisen, they cease; their subsiding is bliss.
A funeral rite is performed, called the Mataka-bana or “preaching for the benefit of the dead.” The normal practice is to invite a monk to the house of the dead person, generally on the third day (or occasionally on any day within a week) after the funeral and to request him to preach a sermon suited to the occasion.
Three months from the date of death, it is customary to hold an almsgiving (sanghika dana) in memory of the deceased and thence to repeat it annually. As in the case of the rituals mentioned earlier, here too the purpose is to impart merit to the deceased. The offering in the name of the dead is called (Mataka-dana). These rites, it may be mentioned here, resemble the sraddha ceremonies of the Hindus in some ways.
Vassa and Kathina
The Vassa, known in Thai as ‘Pansah’ is a three-month rains retreat, instituted by the Buddha and was made compulsory for all fully ordained bhikkhus; (probably influenced by Indian social pressure from the Jain religion who believe that plant life had ‘one sense’ and would be damaged by Buddhist traveling during the rains, or the simple fact that roads became impassable). The retreat extends over a period corresponding to the North Indian rainy season, from the day following the full moon of July until the full-moon day of October; those who cannot enter the regular Vassa / Pansah are permitted to observe the retreat for three months beginning with the day following the August full moon.
The main ceremony is the offering of the special robe known as the kathina-civara to the Sangha, who in turn present it to one of the monks who has observed the retreat. The laity traditionally offer unsowen cloth to the monks. Once the robe is given to the Sangha, certain monks are selected to do the cutting, sewing, and dying of the robe — all in a single day.
The recital of the Atanatiya Sutta (of the Digha Nikaya) in order to exorcise an evil spirit that has taken possession of a person. The commentary to the sutta (DA.iii, 969), dating at least as far back as the time of Buddhaghosa (c. 6th century A.C.) or even earlier, gives a detailed description of how and when to recite it.
According to this description, first the Metta, Dhajagga, and Ratana Suttas should be recited. If the spirit does not leave by such recital, the Atanatiya Sutta is to be recited. The bhikkhu who performs the recital should not eat meat or preparations of flour. He should not live in a cemetery, lest the evil spirits get an opportunity to harass him It is significant that this is a purely Buddhist ritual of considerable antiquity performed on lines similar to those in the Sri Lankan practice of ‘tovil’. But the difference between the two should also be noted. When tovil is performed to cure a person possessed by a spirit, the spirit is ordered to leave the patient after accepting the offering of food and drink (dola-pideni).
However, in the case of the Atanatiya ritual, it is the merits earned by making offerings to the Buddha that are transferred to the spirit. Another significant difference is that the Atanatiya recital, in keeping with its purely Buddhist spirit, is much milder and more restrained than its tovil counterpart. The latter, however, is much more colorful and theatrical owing to its complex and essentially secular character.
The Buddha says that wise men, when residing in a particular area, should first offer alms to religious recluses and then transfer the merits to the deities of the area, who help them in return. This indicates the early beginning of adoring Devas or local/ regional deities in Buddhism (Digha Nikaya ii,88-89).
Deva-worship, the worship of deities, in what are popularly called devalayas or abodes dedicated to these deities. This practice cannot be described as totally non-Buddhist, yet at the same time it does not fall into the category of folk religious practices. Hindu goddesses like Lakshmi, Sarasvati, and Kali are also worshipped by the Buddhists, though only Pattini has separate abodes among the Buddhists. This may stem from the Buddha himself when the four divine regents of the universe mounted guard over him and helped on various occasions of the Bodhisatta’s life from his conception onwards. The benevolence of the deities is also extended to the protection of the faithful followers of the Buddha’s teachings as exemplified by Sakka, the good Samaritan in many Buddhist stories.
In deva-worship the devotees make offerings to these deities and solicit their help for special purposes, especially in their day-to-day problems. The devotee will normally make a vow that if the problem (i.e., illness, bad luck, etc.) is solved, they will make an offering to the deity concerned. Offerings are made even without such a special request. Whatever the case may be, this practice has become a ritual of Thai Buddhists.The offerings normally consist of milk-rice, coconuts, betel, camphor, joss-sticks, fruits, along with flowers, garlands, flags, etc
This form of ritualistic propitiation of deities is a clear adaptation of the Hindu system though the Hindu ceremony is far more elaborate. The most known Deva is probably the Elephant God Ganesha. The Thai people have a great respect for all elephants but a visitor would not easily mistake a statue of a common elephant with that of a statwell ue of Ganesha
The elephant-shaped god Ganesha, is regarded as the god of wisdom and the remover of obstacles. Ganesha is also very popular among Buddhists under the names Ganapati or Gana-deviyo. He is worshipped as the chief of obstacles (Vighnesvara) because it is believed that he is responsible for creating and removing obstracles. He does this through troops of inferior deities or demi-gods considered as attendants of Siva, present almost everywhere, who are under his command. It is in this sense that he is called Gana-pati (chief of hosts).
The deva’s dedicated to him are for the most part Hindu in nature. The Buddhists worship him either through his statues, found in many Buddhists temples, or shrines dedicated to him. As the god of wisdom and of learning, he is propitiated at the time a child first reads the alphabet. As the chief of obstacles, as their creator as well as remover, the Hindus begin their devala-ritual by making the first offering to him.
The Garuda (Sanskrit: Garu?a ????, eagle; Pali Garu?a) is a large mythical bird or bird-like creature that appears in both Hindu and Buddhist mythology. Garuda in Hindu mythology, is a lesser Hindu divinity, usually the mount (vahanam) of Vishnu. It is the Hindu name for the constellation Aquila and the Brahminy kite is considered to be the contemporary representation of Garuda[[(]] The Garuda is depicted as having the golden body of a strong man with a white face, red wings, and an eagle’s beak and with a crown on his head. This ancient deity was said to be massive, large enough to block out the sun.
The Vedas provide the earliest reference of Garuda, though by the name of Syena, where this mighty bird is said to have brought nectar to earth from heaven. The Puranas, which came into existence much later, mention Garuda as doing the same thing, which indicates that Syena (Sanskrit for Eagle) and Garuda are the same.
In the Bhagavad-Gita (Ch.10, Verse 30), in the middle of the battlefield “Kurukshetra”, Krishna explaining his omnipresence, says – “Of birds, I am the son of Vinata (Garuda)” indicating the importance of Garuda. The Garuda plays an important role in Krishna Avatar in which Krishna and Satyabhama ride on Garuda to kill Narakasura. On another occasion, Lord Hari rides on Garuda to save the devotee Elephant Gajendra. It is also said that Garuda’s wings when flying will chant the Vedas.
In the Mahabharata it mentions:-
Birth and Deeds
The story of Garuda’s birth and deeds is told in the first book of the great epic Mahabharata.[[(]] According to the epic, when Garuda first burst forth from his egg, he appeared as a raging inferno equal to the cosmic conflagration that consumes the world at the end of every age. Frightened, the gods begged him for mercy and Garuda, hearing their plea, reduced himself in size and energy.
Garuda had six sons from whom were descended the race of birds. The members of this race were of great might and without compassion, subsisting as they did on their relatives the snakes. Vishnu was their protector.[[(]]
As a Symbol
The Garuda is invoked as a symbol of impetuous violent force, of speed, and of martial prowess. Powerful warriors advancing rapidly on doomed foes are likened to Garuda swooping down on a serpent.[[(]] Defeated warriors are like snakes beaten down by Garuda.[[(]] The field marshall Drona uses a military formation named after Garuda.[[(]] Krishna even carries the image of Garuda on his banner.[[(]]
The Garuda in Buddhism
In Buddhist mythology, the garudas (Pali: garu?a) are enormous predatory birds with intelligence and social organization. Another name for the Garuda is suparna (Pali: supanna), meaning “well-winged, having good wings”. Like the Nagas, they combine the characteristics of animals and divine beings, and may be considered to be among the lowest devas.
The exact size of the garu?a is uncertain, but its wings are said to have a span of many miles. This may be a poetic exaggeration, but it is also said that when a garuda’s wings flap, they create hurricane-like winds that darken the sky and blow down houses. A human being is so small compared to a garu?a that a man can hide in the plumage of one without being noticed (Kakati Jataka, J.327). They are also capable of tearing up entire banyan trees from their roots and carrying them off.
The garudas have kings and cities, and at least some of them have the magical power of changing into human form when they wish to have dealings with people. On some occasions Garuda kings have had romances with human women in this form. Their dwellings are in groves of the simbali, or silk-cotton tree. The garu?as were among the beings appointed by Sakra to guard Mount Sumeru and the Trayastrimsa heaven from the attacks of the asuras.
In the Mahasamyatta Sutta, the Buddha is shown making temporary peace between the Nagas and the Garudas. The Sanskrit word garu?a has been borrowed and modified in the languages of several Buddhist countries. In Thai the word for a Garuda is Krut (????).
For many travelers, Bangkok is the first stop on travels in Thailand and throughout Southeast Asia. With its chaotic veneer, Thai customs are easily overlooked in Bangkok. (Thai customs etc10 Thai Customs To Know Before Visiting Thailand.htm ) is an informative website which advises the visitor to “Respect the local people by knowing these ten cultural points before you embark on travels in Thailand.”
One of the most distinctive Thai customs is the wai, which is similar to the Indian namaste gesture. Showing greeting, farewell, or acknowledgment, it comes in several forms reflecting the relative status of those involved, but generally it involves a prayer-like gesture with the hands and a bow of the head.
Versatile Greeting :- The wai, or pressing your palms together at chest or nose level and bowing your head slightly, is a gesture that you will encounter almost immediately upon arrival in Thailand. The wai is an integral part of Thai etiquette, it denotes respect (or reverence when performed in front of a Buddha image), and can be used to express a hello, thank you, or goodbye.
Physical demonstrations of affection in public are common between friends, but less so between lovers. It is thus common to see friends walking together holding hands, but couples rarely do so except in westernized areas.
A notable social norm holds that touching someone on the head may be considered rude. It is also considered rude to place one’s feet at a level above someone else’s head, especially if that person is of higher social standing. This is because the Thai people consider the foot to be the dirtiest part of the body, and the head the most respected and highest part of the body. This also influences how Thais sit when on the ground—their feet always pointing away from others, tucked to the side or behind them. Pointing at or touching something with the feet is also considered rude.
It is also considered extremely rude to step on a Thai coin, because the king’s head appears on the coin. When sitting in a temple, one is expected to point one’s feet away from images of the Buddha. Shrines inside Thai residences are arranged so as to ensure that the feet are not pointed towards the religious icons—such as placing the shrine on the same wall as the head of a bed, if a house is too small to remove the shrine from the bedroom entirely.
It is also customary to remove one’s footwear before entering a home or a temple, and not to step on the threshold.
There are a number of Thai customs relating to the special status of monks in Thai society. Due to religious discipline, Thai monks are forbidden physical contact with women. Women are therefore expected to make way for passing monks to ensure that accidental contact does not occur. A variety of methods are employed to ensure that no incidental contact (or the appearance of such contact) between women and monks occurs. Women making offerings to monks place their donation at the feet of the monk, or on a cloth laid on the ground or a table. As noted earlier, this is not Buddhist custom but Thai practice. Also, while it is taboo for a woman to touch a monk or pass things to him directly, polite conversation is fine.
It is also customary to remove one’s footwear before entering a home or a temple, and not to step on the threshold.
“Thailand Tales” is a column written in English about Thai culture and it’s implication on life and business. Kriengsak Niratpattanasai is the author of the column. I would like to quote some of his comments as this is how the Thais often perceive themselves. He has written on various topics of Thai culture and customs and I have given his views here as they were compatible with the results from my own research.
Over the past several decades, the government has introduced various practices to encourage nationalism. One example of this institutionalized patriotism is twice daily broadcasts of the national anthem.( composed by the King) Pedestrians, commuters, and students are required to stop or stand whenever this song is played. In recent efforts to boost patriotism, a group of generals proposed that traffic also come to a standstill, arguing that motorists “already spend more time in traffic jams anyway.”
Based on pre-Buddhist Hindu legends, a particular auspicious color is associated with each day of the week. This is most noticeable on Mondays, when many people wear yellow shirts, acknowledging and honouring the day on which the King was born. Other popular colors include pink (Tuesday) and light blue (Friday, the Queen’s day of birth). Given recent political protests, the colors red and yellow are also of significance, representing opposing movements.
About 95% of Thailand’s population is comprised of Buddhists from the Theravada school. Despite teachings against material attachment, many Thais worship Buddha images, don amulets and have body tattoos for protection.
Various animist practices have also been integrated into Thai religious life. Most buildings boast spirit houses or altars, where offerings of food and garlands are made to appease the spirits inhabiting the land. Avoid touching such displays as some Thais can be highly superstitious, fearing disruption of harmonious balance.
The Thai Smile
It seems that the Thai smile is a unique characteristic here. Thailand has long been known as the “Land of Smiles”. We smile easily even when we do not know people. We can smile even if we do not have a reason to smile. One of our clients who works in a Finnish firm told me that her Finnish colleagues did not understand why Thais smile without a reason.
You will surprised at the Thais’ natural hospitality. We will do our best to make our foreign guests happy. For example, we will offer to take our guest to dinner – every night! Further, during the weekend, we will take our guests sightseeing or shopping. We always go the “extra miles” in order to satisfy our guest. It is unlikely that our foreign guest would do the same for guests back home.
If you are lost in the street, you can ask anyone for directions. Even if those you ask are not able to communicate with you in your language, they will do everything they can to help you in a friendly and warm manner.
The Mai Pen Rai Attitude ; Never mind!
The phrase Mai pen rai (never mind) describes the country’s unofficial philosophy, capturing locals’ knack for keeping cool in taxing or annoying situations. In the grand scheme of things, why stress about trifling matters? Mai pen rai! This laidback mindset goes hand-in-hand with an inherent sense of light-heartedness. Nothing is taken too seriously, and anything worth doing should contain some element of sanuk (fun)!
Mai pen rai means “It doesn’t matter” or “That’s okay”. We use this expression all the time. For example, if you bump into a fellow Thai in the street they will say Mai pen rai. If Thais miss a flight, also they will say Mai pen rai. If they lose money in the stock market, they will say Mai pen rai. We see the things that happen to us in a very positive manner. Many people might say that it is because of our faith. It happens because Lord Buddha so ordains things.
Thais like to gossip
In an internet survey of foreign executives in Thailand by KSC Internet, the executives said that Thais like to gossip. The reason is because we do not like to give feedback or criticism directly. We think it’s impolite. But we will tell a third person how we feel about the second person.
Trying to do things even when we do not understand
When a foreign boss assigns work to Thai workers, even if they do not understand what they are being asked to do, they still try do the work based on their own assumptions. We are scared to ask questions, particularly of a foreign boss. On many occasions, Thais do things wrongly because of misunderstanding. Be sure to check for understanding when you issue instructions or briefings. Otherwise, it can damage a situation even more.
Most of my foreign colleagues do not understand why we are so patient. When we are stuck in traffic for hours, we still smile. It is unlikely that you will hear honking car horns. People just stay calm. We are able to adapt to a frustrating environment.
Thailand has long enjoyed a reputation for sexual tolerance, based more on non-confrontational (as opposed to progressive) attitudes. Transsexuals, also known as kathoeys or ladyboys, are highly visible in mainstream society, from scantily clad teens to high-profile celebrities.
Based on Buddhist beliefs, the head is the most valued part of the body while the feet are the lowest, symbolizing attachment to the ground, a cause of human suffering. Touching someone’s head is highly offensive, as is raising your feet or pointing them at people or religious objects. Shoes are to be removed before entering homes and religious structures. Most types of attire are tolerated in areas frequented by tourists. It is a good idea, however, to cover up when visiting temples and shrines. Those wearing sleeveless tops, short skirts, shorts, and flip flops may be denied entrance.
Thais are generally addressed by their first names, preceded by the honorific title Khun, appropriate for both men and women. In more casual settings, mono-syllabic nicknames are used. More traditional monikers cover categories such as colors, animals, and fruit, including Daeng (red), Lek (small), and Moo (pig); these days, you will encounter nicknames such as Good, Money, and Benz (as in the luxury auto).
It is also considered extremely rude to step on a Thai coin, because the king’s head appears on the coin. When sitting in a temple, one is expected to point one’s feet away from images of the Buddha. Shrines inside Thai residences are arranged so as to ensure that the feet are not pointed towards the religious icons—such as placing the shrine on the same wall as the head of a bed, if a house is too small to remove the shrine from the bedroom entirely.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, and the royal family is revered throughout the country. The King is especially beloved for his six decades of public service and humble demeanor. His image is everywhere, from posters plastered on the exterior of buildings to photos displayed on taxi dashboards. Almost every home and business has a picture of a Thai royal displayed in a prominent place. Always stand when the King’s anthem is played before movies, concerts and sporting events.
Travelers should also refrain from making disparaging remarks about the royals. Strict lèse majest© laws apply, and offenses are punishable by imprisonment. Lèse majest© laws also apply to deceased members of Royalty.
The Thai King and the Royal family are so intertwined with the Thai people that I feel it is my duty to include the following pages
The Monarchy of Thailand – Thai
Refers to the constitutional monarchy and monarch of the Kingdom of Thailand (formerly Siam). The King of Thailand is the head of state and head of the ruling Royal House of Chakri. As a constitutional monarch the power of the king is limited to a symbolic figurehead, however the institution elicits huge amount of respect and reverence from the Thai people.
The current monarch of Thailand is King Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose regnal name is Rama IX. The king has reigned since 9 June 1946, making him the world’s longest reigning monarch and the world’s longest serving head of state. Most of the king’s powers are exercised by his elected government in accordance with the constitution of the day. The king still retains many powers such as: being head of the Royal Thai Armed Forces, the prerogative of royal assent and the power of pardon.
Despite the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932, the king is traditionally revered and inviolable according to the constitution. The king and his royal family have no legal rights. His majesty and his family are then protected by the criminal law in a legal concept known in the West as lèse majest©, against any threat, physical violation and defamation. Due to the constitution, since 1932, the king is no longer the origin of all laws in the kingdom. The creation and issue of the laws usually belong to the legislative, the parliament. The king approves the laws according to the prime minister.
The heir apparent to the Thai monarchy is the Crown Prince of Thailand, Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. The succession to the throne is governed by the 1924 Palace Law of Succession, promulgated by King Vajiravudh. The rule of succession is male agnatic primogeniture, where only males are accepted and inheritance is between male lines, from father to son. However the last two Constitutions of Thailand included provisions to permit for the amendment of the Palace Law to allow females to succeed. This seemed unlikely with the birth of Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti in 2005.
The Thai monarchy has been in continuous existence since the existence of Thai kingdoms back two hundred years. The institution reached its current constitutional form in 1932 after a revolution, which ended the absolute monarchy. The monarchy’s official residence is the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. However the present king spends most of his time at the Chitralada Palace (also in Bangkok) and the Klai Kangwon Villa in Hua Hin.
Pho Khun Ramkhamhaeng the Great
The current concept of Thai kingship has evolved through 800 years of absolute rule. The first king of a unified Thailand was the founder of the Kingdom of Sukhothai: King Sri Indraditya in 1238. The idea of this early kingship was based on two grand concepts based from Hinduism (which the Thais inherited from its previous rulers the Khmers) and Theravada Buddhist beliefs. The first concept is based on the Vedic-Hindu caste of: “Kshatriya” . The second is based on the Theravada Buddhist concept of “Dhammaraja”. The idea of the Dhammaraja (or kingship under Dharma), is that the king should rule his people in accordance with Dharma and the teachings of the Buddha.
Ramkhamhaeng departed from this tradition and created instead a concept of “paternal rule” in which the King governs his people as a father would govern his children. This idea is reinforced in the title of the King, as he is still known today, Pho Khun Ramkhamhaeng (“Pho” is Thai for Father). However this lasted only briefly, by the end of the kingdom the two old concepts had returned as symbolized by the change in the style of the kings; “Pho” was changed to “Phya” or Lord.
Kings of Ayutthaya
The Kingdom of Sukhothai was eventually supplanted by the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, which was founded in 1351 by King Ramathibodhi I. During the Ayutthayan period the idea of kingship changed. Due to ancient Khmer tradition in the region, Hindu concept of kingship was applied for the status of the leader. Brahmins took charge in the royal coronation. The king was believed to be the reincarnation of Hindu gods. Ayutthaya historical documents show the official titles of the kings in great variation; Indra, Shiva and Vishnu, or Rama. Seemingly, Rama was the most popular, as Ramathibodhi. However, Buddhist influence was also evident as many times the king’s title and ‘unofficial’ name related to Bodhisattava, Dhamma Raja, or King of Dharma, and the ‘sprout of Buddha’. The two former concepts were re-established, with a new third concept taking a more serious hold. This new concept was called “Dhevaraja” (Thai: ???????) (or Divine-King), which was an ideal borrowed from Hinduism and especially the Brahmins. This concept centered on the idea that the king was an incarnation (Avatar) of the god Vishnu and that he was a Bodhisattva (enlightened one), therefore basing his power on his religious power, moral power and purity of blood.
As he was said to be the reincarnation of god, divine duties were expected and practiced. Protecting the people from unrest and annihilating the insurgents were his responsibility. Many times, the king personally led the armed forces to defend his capital when enemy invaded. However, from times to times, Ayutthaya kings also showed his charisma according the ancient Indian concept of Cakravartin or Chakkrabhatirat, Raja of Rajas. He might lead forces to wage wars to subjugate neighboring kingdoms or city-states.
The king as a semi-divine figure then became an object of worship and veneration for his people. From then on the monarchy was largely removed from the people, although they continued their absolute rule. Living in palaces designed after Mount Meru (Home of the gods in Hinduism). The kings turned themselves into a “Chakravartin” or literally from Sanskrit “whose wheels are moving”, where the Kings became an absolute and universal lord of his realm. The kings demanded that the universe must revolve around them, expressing their powers through elaborate rituals and ceremonies. For four centuries these kings ruled Ayutthaya, presiding over some of the greatest period of cultural, economic and military growth in Thai History.
The kings of Ayutthaya; especially King Trailokanat created many institutions to support their rule such as bureaucracy and a system of so-called Sakna or Sakdina, usually translated as feudalism, and the creation of “Rachasap” (a special language reserved exclusively when addressing the king or talking about the king). The king’s power was absolute and sovereign: as the “Lord of the Land” (Phra Chao Phaendin). The king was also the chief administrator, chief legislator and chief judge. Therefore laws, orders, verdict and punishment theoretically originated from the king. All of this came to an end in 1767 when a Burmese army under the Alaungpaya Dynasty invaded and sacked the city of Ayutthaya. Yet Ayutthaya kingship seems to be the model for later period’s kings, the Chakri Dynasty.
King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke or Rama I, founder of the Chakri Dynasty.After a brief interlude filled first by civil war then the short-lived Thonburi Kingdom under King Taksin. In 1782 a new kingdom was established by King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke (or Rama I) when he moved the capital from Thonburi to Bangkok. King Rama I also founded the House of Chakri, the current ruling house of Thailand.
During the Rattanakosin Period the Chakri kings tried to continue the concepts of Ayutthaya Kingship once again emphasizing the connection between the sovereign and his subjects. On the other hand they continued to not relinquish any authority of the throne. During this period (King Rama II, Rama III and Rama IV) tried to create the first semblance of a modern government, creating ministries and appointing chief ministers to help with the running of the government. Rama IV was significantly interested in the western knowledge.
King Chulalongkorn (or Rama V) ascended the throne as king of Siam in 1868. Due to pressure of old generation dignitaries and high officials, he decided to embrace many European and Western ideas. Under the tougher pressure from western imperialists, old tributaries kingdoms of Siam such as Laos and Cambodia were under French control. Rama V then began close contact with the western powers, Siam could avoid being colonized.
King Chulalongkorn; himself educated by westerners, was intent on reforming the monarchy along western lines. First he abolished the practice of kneeling and crawling in front of the monarch and repealed many laws concerning the relationship between the monarch and his people. Instead he created a monarchy based on western lines of an ‘enlightened ruler’; absolute but enlightened. However he continued to preserve many ancient aspects and rituals of the old kingship, including his religious and feudal powers. His son King Vajiravudh (or Rama VI) (succeeded in 1910) continued his father’s zeal for reform and brought the monarchy into the 20th century. He was succeeded by his brother King Prajadhipok (or Rama VII) in 1925.
In June 1932, a group of foreign educated students and military men called “the Promoters” carried out a bloodless coup, or so-called the Revolution, seizing power and demanded that King Prajadhipok, grant the people of Siam a constitution. The king agreed and in December 1932 the people were granted a charter, ending almost exactly 150 years of absolute Chakri rule. From then on the role of the monarch was relegated to that of a symbolic head of state. Yet his majesty is traditionally revered and inviolable according to the constitutions. The king has no longer power in issuing laws and orders.
In 1935 King Pradhipok abdicated the throne, following disagreements with the increasingly controversial government. Rama VII lived in asylum in the United Kingdom until his death. The king was replaced by his young nephew Ananda Mahidol (or Rama VIII). The new king was only 10 years old and was living abroad in Switzerland at the time while a leader of the 1932 Revolution was his regent. Thai monarchy was under severe threat during the World War II.
The authoritarian government led by Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkram tried to control the monarchy, and the young monarch. After the agreement allowing the Imperial Japanese Armed Forces to settle in the kingdom, royal relatives and some leading political figures played an important anti-Japanese role in the Free Thai Movement or Serithai.
After the Rama VIII’s mysterious death in 1946 his brother, Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej (or Rama IX), aged 19 years old, became the new monarch, Rama IX.
The present set of Royal Regalia of Thailand (Thai: ????????????????) and the Royal Utensils was created mostly during the reign of King Rama I and Rama IV, after the previous set was lost during the sack of Ayutthaya by the Burmese in 1767. The Regalia is used mainly during the coronation ceremony of the king at the beginning of every reign. The Regalia is presently on display in the Museum of the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
Symbols of Kingship
Royal Thrones of Thailand- currently there are six, distributed at various Throne Halls in the Grand Palace.
Royal White Elephant- usually one to represent each reign, the current one resides at Dusit zoo, the king also has 10 others.
The Royal Garuda- Emblem of the king and of Thailand **
Royal Standard of Thailand- Official standard of the king
Royal Flags- Personal flags of the king and royal family
**The Garuda has already been discussed
His Majesty the King and other members of the royal family carry-out many royal ceremonies per year, some dating from the 13th century.
Royal Coronation Ceremony
Royal Barge Procession
Royal Ploughing Ceremony
The Changing of the Robes of the Emerald Buddha
Trooping of the Colours
Oath of Allegiance Ceremony
Speech from the Throne to the National Assembly of Thailand
The Royal Barge Procession may not have its roots in Hinduism but the highly decorated barges most certainly do. The boats are beautifully crafted with the figureheads taken from Hindu (and Buddhist) mythology
The Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand (2007), Aryan, Gothan (September 15-September 16, 2004), Thai Monarchy, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, Retrieved on 05 July 2006, presented in Kathmandu, Nepal
Kullada Kesboonchoo Mead, The Rise and Decline of Thai Absolutism, RoutledgeCurzon 2004
Thai Government Public Relations: Royal Regalia
King of Thailand.net
Website of the King’s 50 Anniversary Celebration
The illustrious Chakri family
The Royal Family, History and Information
Website on the Thai Monarchy
 Centuries-old stone set in controversy, The Nation, Sep 8, 2003
 The Ramkhamhaeng Controversy: Selected Papers. Edited by James F. Chamberlain. The Siam Society,
 Intellectual Might and National Myth: A Forensic Investigation of the Ram Khamhaeng Controversy in Thai Society, by Mukhom Wongthes. Matichon publishing, ltd. 2003
 Seditious Histories: Contesting Thai and Southeast Asian Pasts, by Craig J. Reynolds. University of Washington Press, 2006, p. vii
[(]§ E.W. Adikaram, Early History of Buddhism in Ceylon Migoda, Sri Lanka, 1946 p.140.
[(]¨ Russel, RV & Lal, H. 1916 The tribes and castes of the central provinces of India. Published Under the Orders of the Central Provinces Administration In Four Volumes Vol. I. Macmillan and Co., Limited St. Martin’s Street, London. pp. 2231
[(]© Mahabharata, Book I: Adi Parva, Sections 23 ff
[(]ª Mahabharata, Book V: Udyoga Parva, Section 101.
[(]F “Loud was the noise with which Arjuna faced his foes, like that made by Garuda in days of yore when swooping down for snakes.” (Mahabharata, Book VIII: Karna Parva, Section 77.) “The impetuosity of Ashvatthama, as he rushed towards his foe, resembled that of Garuda swooping down for seizing a large snake.” (Mahabharata, Book VIII: Karna Parva, Section 59.) Arjuna “seized Drupada as Garuda seizeth a huge snake after agitating the waters of the ocean.” (Book I: Adi Parva, Section 140.)
[(]S Mahabharata, Book VIII: Karna Parva, Section 85.
[(]W Mahabharata, Book VII: Drona Parva, Section 20
[(]Y Mahabharata, Book VIII: Karna Parva, Section 94.