Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Flowers for Buddha

A monk receives floral offerings from people lined up along the road in front of Wat Phra Phutthabat in Saraburi province during the Tak Bat Dok Mai.

The Tak Bat Dok Mai is one of my favorite temple festivals. It only happens in one temple in Thailand, at Wat Phra Phutthabat in Saraburi, about 90 minutes from Bangkok. This is a time of temple fairs and festivals in Thailand, the Tak Bat Dok Mai, like many of the others, marks the start of Vassa or three month rains retreat. 

Thousands of people make the trip to Wat Phra Phutthabat for the three day festival. The first day is a mass merit making ceremony, like the much smaller merit making I covered in Bangkok Sunday, but the main event is on the last two days of the festival when people line the road leading to the temple and present the monks, who walk in single file through the crowd, with flowers and wash the monks' feet. They also make presentations of money and food. It's a colorful, crowded amazing scene. 
People wait to present monks with flowers. The flowers are "dok khao phansa," related to ginger. They only grow in Saraburi province and only bloom in the weeks before Vassa.

The processions (two each day) start about 9AM and 3PM but people start lining up well before the processions. I got to the temple about 7AM and a few people were already staking out their spots on the street. 

Police and security guards from the temple try to hold the crowd back, but it's good natured chaos as people close in on the street making it almost impossible to get through. 

But they always make way for the monks, who walk single file through the crowd. The crowds part for the monks and then close in around them as they pass. It's an interesting thing to watch and almost organic the way the crowd parts and closes in again. 

The crowd is a real mix of people - young people in their 20s. Families with children. Families with elders in wheelchairs. Groups from companies, all in their company approved attire. And as chaotic as it seems, there's obviously a method to it that I don't understand since there's no pushing and shoving, everyone just knows that they will have a chance to give flowers to the monks or wash their feet as they pass by. 
A girl waits to make a presentation to a monk. 

The whole procession, which goes for about a kilometer, takes nearly an hour and ends at the temple, where monks climb a staircase to a hilltop Mondop (chapel).
A girl washes a monk's feet as he passes her.

There are lots of photos from the Tak Bat Dok Mai in my archive or available from ZUMA Press.  
Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.