The annual Poi Sang Long ceremony got away in the northern Thailand city of Mae Hong Son (province [of the] three mists) today, April 6.
Practised by the Shan people of Burma and Northern Thailand, Poi Sang Long means Festival (of the) Crystal Sons and is a rite of passage ceremony undergone by boys between seven and 14 years of age.
The three day Poi Sang Long ceremony traces it’s origins back to Buddhist legend which tells the tale of Prince Rahula, the son of Buddha, who gave up his worldly possessions to follow his fathers teachings and who became the first novice Buddhist monk and youngest ordained Buddhist monk 2,535 years ago.
As part of the Poi Sang Long ceremony young boys first have their heads shaved by parents and family members, before being bathed, anointed with herbal waters and then dressed to resemble princes from bygone eras.
After having their faces embellished to make them as beautiful as possible, the would-be novice Buddhist monks are then carried around from temple to temple to seek forgiveness from the cities abbots.
Each boy is assigned three family members to accompany him on his rounds. One is to carry the umbrella to protect him from the sun, the second to carry him and the third to protect his jewels.
Each of the family member takes turns to carry the would-be Buddhist monk on his rounds of the city temples though, as according to Poi Sang Long tradition, his feet are only allowed to touch the ground either inside a family home or a temple for the duration of the ceremony.
To ensure this does not occur, and as testimony to the dedication of their carers, the Poi Sang Long initiates wear long white socks for the three days of the ceremony.
On the second day of the Poi Sang Long ceremony the boys are part of a large procession of floats and musicians that winds its way through the street of Mae Hong Son.
The Poi Sang Long ceremony comes to a head on the third day when the initiates are taken to the Don Chedi temple for the formal ordination ceremony that will see them admitted as Buddhist monks.
As the carers who have looked after them for the past three days partake of a banquet and not inconsiderable amounts of rice wine as reward for their endeavours, the novice Buddhist monks are presented to the senior abbot and seek ordination.
The boys then go through the formal Poi Sang Long ordination ceremony, including the taking of Buddhist vows. Their lavish clothes and makeup are removed and they change into the saffron robes of a novice Buddhist monk.
It is believed that by participating in the Poi Sang Long ceremony and joining the monkhood the boys will gain merit for their parents.
The Poi Sang Long ceremony will see some stay in the monkhood for as little as one week, while others will devote their lives to studying Buddhism doctrine.
Video clips of the Poi Sang Long ceremony in Mae Hong Son can be found here: Newsblog video gallery
¬© John Le Fevre, 2008
He is currently Thailand editor/ managing editor for AEC News Today
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