Thailand – the Theravada Buddhist capital of the world. I arrived in Chiang Mai for the most holy day in Buddhism – Vaisakha. The day Buddha was born, found enlightenment and died. Years apart of course, but miraculously on the same day of the same lunar month.
In Chiang Mai, the tradition is to walk 17 kilometres up Doi Suthep Mountain at night to arrive before a dawn ceremony begins. I braved the hill and all throughout was greeted by volunteers giving away free food, ice cold drinks, sweet treats and words of encouragement to the tens of thousands of pilgrims who ascended together in a steady stream to worship Buddha on this important day.
Tired and weary I arrived to a sea of foot massage stalls set up on the street – yes please! Also, to the crush of the crowd adorning the serpent stair case to the temple. After a snail paced crawl up those 300 steps I arrived at the glittering gold monuments of Buddha. I took my incense, candles and lotus flower and offered them in thanks to the statue and prayed for mankind, given I think we need it sometimes. People were strewn about getting a little bit of shuteye before the rain came down and the ceremony was done.
I escaped to the safety of the Songthaews (Red Truck Transport) thanks to my sneaky leap into the standing room only section (aka the step outside clinging to the roof racks but at least I’m dry.) In the traffic a young man insisted I swap with him and he braves the elements. I like that the entire town came out to this event and it had all the spirit of Chinese New Year, with dances, and singers/bands along the journey and makeshift temples and monks handing out blessings via holy water and white cotton bracelets (sai sin). This bracelet is for health and protection, my two favourite prayers and white to signify purity. I thanked the monk who gave me mine and continued up the mountain.
I slept through the morning rituals after getting back to my homestay at 7am and woke just in time for the candle ceremony at Wat Chedi in downtown. The city’s most popular temple, the ceremony was simply gorgeous. Monk’s chanted and prayed with the crowds within the temple and I’m reminded to light my incense and candle again ready for the Wien Tien (Walking Circulation of the temple three times. Three – of course!).
Then we all gathered out in the grounds and the monks led us into a garden on the lake with their candles and blessings while the crowd watched on in silence. This ceremony was again in memorial of the ‘Enlightened One’ and whilst it was beautiful, it was also ceremonious and full of tradition.
I keep thinking, but he’s just a man. Maybe the monastery will have the answers.
Yours in Faith,
The Unlikely Pilgrim
6 thoughts on “Surprisingly No Oms”
Wow this sounds like an amazing experience! I have never done anything like this but after reading your post I’m going to do some more research. It sounds like everyone was very welcoming. Do you have any tips for someone who would want to join in as an outsider to the culture/religion?
Honestly. I immerse myself in other religions all the time…. it’s my job. Everywhere I have been when people know you want to learn about their culture and faith. They welcome you with open arms. I google etiquette of certain things before arriving but otherwise. Go for it !
I never made it up north, only to Bangkok. Was it very different?
Loads different. Very beautiful. Lesss crazy busy and the food I think was better.
Wow, you will probably keep this amazing experience in mind ! I witness the puja, ceremonies celebrated by Buddhist lamas in Nepal. I can say that there are as many types of puja as lamas but the one I have saw at the Lo Manthang Monastery remains engraved in my mind: haunting chants, flickering candles, gongs and cymbals, trumpets…
That sounds incredible. I’m heading to Nepal in October. I’ll definitely check it out.