Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Chiang Mai: 10,000 Monks

Between Christmas and New Year's eve, we headed back to Chiang Mai, this time with Colleen, Steve and Colleen's brother John (more on the rest of their visit soon... we're getting all crazy with the chronology of this blog lately!).  We rented a house that included airport pickup and during the ride the owner explained to us that there was a big ceremony happening within walking distance to our house the following morning: 10,000 Buddhist monks from around the region would be accepting alms from the public in a large annual ceremony.  We also saw advertisements all around town for the ceremony and we were intrigued, so we decided to check it out despite the ridiculously early start time.

We bundled up (it was chilly there! although it was no polar vortex) and headed out while it was still dark... we knew where we were going and yet questioned it because the streets were so quiet.  As we rounded the corner, though, and saw the gaggles of monks, alms collection bowls in hand, quietly making their way to the site, we knew we were going in the right direction:

Photo courtesy of Colleen.
When we arrived, we found one of Chiang Mai's major streets entirely blocked off and carpeted with plastic sheeting for blocks and blocks.  The monks seem to have congregated at the far end of the street from where we sat, and they got chairs, according to some photos I found online.  Locals, mostly dressed in white, had already started finding seats on the ground along the road, organized in three long rows separated by two aisles through which the monks would eventually walk.  Everyone took their shoes off before sitting and prepared their offerings, which ranged from flowers to bottled water, to instant noodles or pre-packaged bags full of food and grooming necessities (not unlike the monk comfort packs they sell at grocery stores and 7-11s around the country), which is what we opted for (see below). Thais believe that providing alms to monks helps them to "make merit," which can help them obtain certain things in this life and the next. 

Photo of sleepy me courtesy of Colleen.
We sat around for a while and finally the ceremony got started. A lot of it we couldn't understand, but it was clear that much of it was prayers said by various monks, and many times the crowd participated in the chanting and praying.  Check it out in the video below:

The locals, mostly dressed in white, praying before the monks started walking:

Everyone patiently waiting for the ceremony to start:

Eventually, the monks, young and old, started making their way down the aisles... the locals were just as excited as we were to capture the event on camera:

Photo courtesy of Colleen.
Photo courtesy of Colleen.
 Some of them looked very cold, whereas others were bundled up in saffron blankets and/or crocheted hats that coordinated with their robes:

The monks sort of wound their way around the aisles and eventually were given the go-ahead to begin accepting offerings.

Colleen picked a cute elderly monk for her offering, while I picked a young one:

Photo courtesy of Colleen.

Look how young these monks are!:

At certain points there were so many monks and so much stuff being offered as alms that there was a bit of a back-up in the aisles...  check out the Costco-sized piles of goods these people below have to offer up:

Some people also offered cash and a prayer for local temples... the cash is attached to a "money tree."  This isn't specific to this event- you see these money trees all over Thailand supporting various temples or charities (kinda like the donation boxes next to the cash register in America):

So many donations were received that the monks had to empty their alms bowls into trash bags held by high school students.  The excess gets donated to charities (we think the donations from this particular event went to families affected by the violence in southern Thailand):

Photo courtesy of Colleen.
Photo courtesy of Colleen.

I'm not sure there were actually 10,000 monks as advertised, but there were definitely several thousand, I think.  It was difficult to tell from our vantage point, but I found this shot online that better shows just how big the event was... check it out here.

Photo courtesy of Colleen!l
Pretty cool event to participate in, all in all!

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