When P.M. Somchai came to Samut Prakan last year, the yellow shirt street protests were at their highest level. I remember last year that there were hundreds of riot police on standby but they weren’t deployed. Despite all the security, I didn’t have any trouble last year taking any pictures of the P.M. However, things were different this year. This was one of the few opportunities that the media were given to take a clear picture of the Minister leading the procession carrying the red cloth around the temple. For most of the time there was a dozen or so security guards blocking our way. It is nice of them to invite these big name people, but really this procession is for the people of Samut Prakan. The riot police and soldiers that were deployed around the temple meant that only a limited number of local people could take part.
Today saw the start of the 182nd Phra Samut Chedi Temple Fair in Samut Prakan. This takes place every year five days after the full moon in October. It goes on for twelve days and twelve nights and includes mandy sideshow games as well as a lot of really delicious food. The event started today with a parade of the sacred red cloth through the towns of Samut Prakan and Phra Pradaeng. The red cloth was then brought to Phra Samut Chedi to be wrapped around the pagoda. Last year the guest of honour was the then Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat. This year we had the Minister of Interior, Mr. Chavarat Charnvirakul. He is the leader of the Bhumjai Thai Party and was also the caretaker Prime Minister briefly last year.
At the head of the parade holding the cloth was the Interior minister, the Governor of Samut Prakan, the District Chief of Phra Samut Chedi, the City Mayor for Phra Samut Chedi and many other government officials. I am not sure how long the cloth is but there wasn’t much room for anyone else. People believe they can gain great merit if they can grab hold of the red cloth. But, you can also gain merit if you are holding onto someone else that is touching the cloth. Or someone else, who is touching someone else, who is touching someone else who has another ten or so people in front of them with one of them touching the red cloth. Like any other temple procession, they went around the temple three times in a clockwise direction. The procession was led by a marching band and one complete circuit of the chedi took them about eight minutes.
Once the procession was finished, the red cloth was carefully handed over to members of the Rungjaeng family. For over a hundred years, this family has been responsible for making the red cloth. They are also the only people allowed to wrap the cloth around the pagoda. The red cloth is quite large and must weigh a lot. If it wasn’t for their skill, then surely a crane would be needed to hoist it to the top. But, they went up, barefoot and with no harnesses, to the very top carrying the red cloth. They made it all look very easy. Down below, female members of the family called out to them to take it easy and not to fall down. They didn’t seemed concerned at all at how high they were. They worked quickly and amazingly it only took them about 30 minutes to finish.
Normally while this is going on, there is a ceremony going on down below with speeches by the District Officer and the Governor. There is also entertainment and group photos. However, this time there were only empty chairs. Most of the media were busy taking pictures of the red cloth being wrapped around the pagoda. When this had finished we suddenly realized that the Minister and the Governor were missing. No-one seemed to know what was going on. It turned out that they decided to take the minister for a lunch break. Forty five minutes later they came out and escorted him straight back to his car. We found out later that he had another appointment. Once he was gone it was on with the show. We were entertained with Human Puppets and a sword show.