Visakha Bucha Day is the most important day in the Buddhist calendar. It marks the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha which all happened on the full moon of the sixth lunar month. All around Thailand, Buddhists will be going to their local temple tomorrow to mark this important event by making merit and taking part in chanting and meditation. The Mon people, in the communities surrounding Wat Bang Ya Phraek in Phra Pradaeng District of Samut Prakan, took part in a parade and merit making activities this afternoon. I went there for the first time today to watch this traditional festival that happens on the day before Visakha Bucha Day every year.
In Thai, this parade is called “ngan hae yot phra chedi sai”. Which is basically a parade to carry the pinnacle or slender spires for the sand pagodas. I have talked several times about “chedi sai” before. You often see these sand pagodas being made at temples during the Songkran period. Traditionally, people will take sand to their local temples once a year in order to replace any sand that they may have inadvertently taken away on the bottom of their shoes. Families will come together to build a sand pagoda as a way to make merit together. They decorate these with flags and flowers and quite often produce a really beautiful pagoda.
The festivities at Wat Bang Ya Phraek started with the parade. Taking part were about ten communities and organizations in the local area. The opening ceremony was conducted by Samut Prakan Governor Mr. Kwanchai Wongnitikorn. After he had cut the ribbon the parade then started. There weren’t any big floats as this was really a kind of “wien tien” around the main building in the temple. But there were close on a thousand people involved so it was more like a parade. There were at least two marching bands but every group also had mobile amplifiers attached to loudspeakers which they pushed along on a trolley. Some had electronic guitars plugged in and were blasting away.
In each group there were people carrying various items to use to decorate their sand pagoda. In the top picture you can see the “yot chedi”. Others carried rice, buckets of essentials items and “money trees” to offer to the monks. The parade went around the temple grounds three times in a clockwise direction. They finally ended up in the area where the sand pagodas had already been prepared the day before. These were all amazingly beautiful without exception. It looked like a lot of work had been done to make these. I am glad I came early and took pictures of the sand pagodas before the parade finished. Afterwards, this small area became really crowded and the cacophony of noise from all the different amplifiers just added to the organized chaos.
Each community raised the “yot chedi” to the top of their sand pagoda. A Thai style pagoda is often a bell-shaped monument. The “yot chedi” is the spire that goes up from the top. Hanging down from these were lines with 20 baht and 100 baht banknotes attached. I also spotted some 500 baht notes. These were then attached to poles at each of the corners. Next they decorated the chedi with a cloth and some flower garlands. People then lit joss sticks and said a short prayer before placing them into the sand pagoda. Once they had all finished, the monks started chanting which was broadcasted around the temple on loudspeakers. This went on for about 20 minutes. But that wasn’t really the end of the events. Starting today they will have a kind of three day temple fair. Tonight they will have a free concert at the temple.
It was quite an amazing experience for me. I have never been to this festival before. The parade started at 5.15 p.m. and it was just over an hour before they were ready for the chanting. There was so much to see and experience. It was one of those events that you had to keep looking around you for photo opportunities otherwise you would miss something. The sight, sound and smells were quite overwhelming at times. I am sure I will go again next year now I know what to expect. However this time I will take some video as well. Sometimes pictures just don’t do an event like this any justice.
I am sorry I didn’t give anyone advance notice. I only found out about this festival last night and anyway, I had never been before and so I wasn’t sure if it would be any good. This is the kind of event that is never publicized by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). They think that foreign tourists won’t be interested. I live and breathe by these events. I love going to festivals where I am the only foreigner. We are so close to Bangkok but not many tourists come down this way.