Monks are often thought of as being deeply spiritual folk, who have dedicated their entire lives to the temple, which is true for some, but most in fact choose to serve only short periods in ordination. Like days, weeks or months. So in Thailand most men would spend at least some time in monkhood, as a rite-of-passage of sorts, to bring good karma and merit to their family. And in the past I have seen various ordination ceremonies, from intimate family occasions, to mass ordinations with 100 plus monks ordaining on the same day. In fact I was once invited to ordain myself at our local temple in Isaan, which I ultimately had to refuse, given it’s not a commitment to be taken lightly.
The ordination ceremony typically takes place over two days, although preparations do go on beforehand, as the ordaining monk will likely spend days serving as a temple helper, or ‘Dek Wat’ as they are known, as they learn the ropes of life at the temple. Then the first main event would be the head shaving ceremony, which takes place on the day before ordination, when family members each take turn to cut pieces of the ordaining monk’s hair, before shaving his head to the skin, along with his eyebrows, and any facial hair. Meanwhile the hair is collected in a lotus leaf, to later be set afloat on a waterway, or maybe just kept for luck.
The next morning, on ordination day, the ordaining monk would be dressed in a ceremonial white gown, and after an early morning get-together with friends and family, he will then be paraded through the local village, en route to the temple for ordination. This procession will likely be led by a mobile bandstand, banging out traditional ‘Look Tung’ country music, while it navigates the village streets. This would very much be the raucous side of the ceremony, with a lot of dancing, and more than not the sharing of alcohol in the front rows of the parade. And while alcohol is frowned upon on temple grounds, the revellers like to make the most of the celebration before arriving to the sacred compound.
Arriving to the temple there would then be a final parade around the ordination hall, three times clockwise, before ribbon flowers, which are basically just coins blessed by monks and wrapped in ribbon, are thrown into scrambling crowds. This is when the ordaining monk finally enters the ordination hall, along with his family who present his saffron monk robes before leaving, as the final ordination ceremony takes place inside. This is more of a private occasion, when the ordaining monk commits to his new roles and life in the temple, as the crowds disperse and the celebrations typically end. Then, for the coming period, the newly ordained monk will fulfil a strict and disciplined routine of learning, and prayer, as they denounce all unnecessary comforts of today’s modern world.
Allan Wilson is an Asia-obsessed travel blogger based in Bangkok and Isan. Travels for food, a bit of booze, and thrives on being lost in alien cultures. He’s the special winner of the TAT Newsroom Blogger Thailand competition 2017.” Get to know more about him at http://live-less-ordinary.com/