Thailand Diary - 3

Thailand

Bangkok: The Amulet Market and a Monk Ordination Ceremony at Wat Maharat


I went back to the boat, heading upriver this time. I got off at Phra Mahathat where there is large amulet market near the boat dock. Thais like to wear these small images of religious or royal figures, and there are thousands of amulets for sale in the market. Dozens of small stalls have displays of amulets, magazines for avid collectors and some larger statues of buddhas, former kings and assorted sculptures. The walkways are narrow and there is a general bus tle about the place that makes it a great experience.

Competing with the shoppers are several fruit carts that ply the walkways. I bought some fresh pineapple to eat and took a chance with some green fruit that I could not identify. The vendor said "mango" but it was hard and under the skin the fruit was a pale green. The taste was somewhat bitter, so it is eaten with a mix of salt, sugar and chilis. This was unlike any mango I had ever eaten, so I figured that the man did not know the correct English word for it. I found out later that it was an unripe mango of a variety not found outside of Southeast Asia. It's a very popular fruit with Thais, Malaysians and Singaporeans.

After the market, I went to Wat Maharat behind the amulet market, which is a highly-respected center of Buddhist teaching. There were monks everywhere, in their distinctive bright robes. Older monks wear dark mustard color robes, but the younger ones ge nerally wear a bright orange color that you won't forget and can be seen all over Thailand.

There appeared to be some sort of ceremony going on and a large tent with chairs had been set up outside. Seeing this I decided not to go into the main building which houses the largest buddha in this temple. As I was turning to leave, a man came runnin g out after me and told me there was a special ceremony to ordain new monks and that I was allowed to go in. He said he worked there and offered to take me.

I followed him into the temple, first removing our shoes. On a raised platform sat several older monks, one of whom was speaking. Facing them sat about 40 young monks, with newly-shaven heads. This was the ordination ceremony. During his life, each Thai man is expected to enter the monkhood for at least a few weeks, in order to "make merit" in this life, further ensuring a good future life, according to Thai Buddhist beliefs. Some men decide to stay in the monkhood for years a nd this is very acceptable in Thai society. The spring is a popular time for men to enter monkhood and given that this is such a well-known temple, it was not surprising that so many young men were becoming monks today.

My guide took me behind the towering golden Buddha which overlooked the ceremony and I saw many other smaller Buddha images in the temple. He even encouraged me to take photographs, though I felt it might be disrespectful. I need not have worried as the proud relatives of the monks were also happily snapping away or running around with video cameras in order to capture the event for posterity.

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All text and photographs Copyright (c) 2001 Naomi S. Smith