The ordination of Buddhist monks is not a sombre or dull ceremony but a proud and joyful celebration of family
and religion with contemporary, though traditional, Thai culture on show and Thai food centre stage.
If you are invited to the ordination of a Buddhist monk or for that matter just passing by a busier than usual Buddhist Wat or temple, consider taking the time to join in the celebrations. We were welcomed to Wat Nong Jang in Cha-Am where 37 men of all ages were being ordained as Buddhist monks at the Wat’s annual ordination day of feasting, dancing and religious ceremony.
First the food, free to everyone, no questions asked, thanks to the generosity of local food stalls, restaurants and families. A literal smorgasbord of Thai style cuisine with more variety and quantity than could possibly be managed at 10am in the morning and not a drop of alcohol in sight. The soon-to-be monks have priority, as monks must have their last meal of the day before 12 noon. White laced robes are worn prior to adopting the usual saffron colour later in the day.
The protégés have also been shaven, head and face, including eyebrows, an early morning task jointly undertaken by family members and the official Wat ‘barber’. After instruction from the Wat’s hierarchy, basic gifts are formally handed over by very proud family members such as basic clothing and maybe even an electric fan. This becomes something of a farewell, albeit temporary, and a handing over of the novice to the sanctity of the Wat for a period which will typically be some months. The final ceremony involves the new monks, family and friends circling the Wat three times, the latter in festive dance mode with banks of speakers blasting out music at high volume.
The ordination of a monk is not about tourism; however visitors who are respectful are welcome. Don’t expect to be the centre of attention, but if you smile and follow the lead of locals (including the dancing) this will be one of the most authentic and memorable experiences of Thai culture you can imagine. In true Thai style, this serious business is also a joyful time to celebrate; a very happy time or in Thai – Sanuuk Maak!