Hae Pha Khuen That Festival

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title.alternative : Hae Pha Hom That, Hae Pha Khuen That on Vesak Day, Hae Pha Khuen That on Makha Bucha Day, Hom That, Hae Phra Bot Khuen That
event date.month : February,May
event date.lunar month : waxing 15th, month 3rd (waxing 15th, month 4th, in leap year), waxing 15th month 6th (waxing 15th, month 7th, in leap year
location : Wat Phra Mahathat Worawihan
province / region : South
: Nakhon Si Thammarat
subject : calendrical rites
relations :
keywords : Wat Phra Mahathat Worawihan, Phra Boromthat, Vesak Day, Makha Bucha Day, Phra Bot
creator : ,Supitcha Nakkong
date.issued : 17 Feb 2016
date.last updated : 20 Sep 2017

Hae Pha Khuen That Festival

The key activity of this merit-making festival is the draping of a very long piece of yellow, holy cloth known as Phra Bot around the base of a stupa inside which Buddha’s sacred relics are enshrined.  Buddhist devotees donate money for purchasing cloth pieces that are sewn into one piece thousands of yards long.  The ritualistic cloth is carried in a procession that can be started inside or outside the temple grounds.  Sometimes it is carried around the stupa. Draping the cloth around the relic stupa symbolizes the offering of the cloth to be put on the Lord Buddha.  This special cloth is called “Pha Phra Bot”.  (Somput Dhurajane and Prayad Kasem 2016)

          There is no evidence as to when this time-honored religious tradition was originated.  According to legends, it could have dated to the Srivijaya time, or around B.E. 1230.  The legends stated clearly that the practice was observed during the annual celebration of the Relics.  No specific date, however, was mentioned.  It could be possible that the date was changed every year, as generally it was the former Nakhon governors holding the title of Phraya Nakhon and their heirs who did it annually, the highlight being the procession of the consecrated Phra Bot to Wat Phra Mahathat.  Regularly joined the beautiful procession were Nakhon devotees who carried offerings of food and other requisites for the monks.  Even after the termination of the Phraya Nakhon tenure due to some central administrative changes, the heirs continued to hold this pious festival.  After the 1932 changed system of government resulting in the country’s transition from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy, Phraya Nakhon still carried on the tradition.  The Hae Phra Khuen That has been maintained until the present time.  It is organized every year and attracts an increasing number of Nakhon devotees from all over the province to come and pay respect to the Relics at Way Phra Mahathat. (Nakhon Si Thammarat Teachers’ College 2528: 30; Wimon Damsri 2557 : 24)   

          During King Rama II’s reign, the Hae Phra Bot Khuen That was performed on Visakha Bucha/Vesak Day, on the May full moon.  Devotees did the wain tian (a 3-round candle-lit procession around the ubosot or main/ordination hall) around the Relics stupa.  The monk congregation chanted blessing prayers on this annual occasion.  Large numbers of Buddhists, the Nakhon people themselves and those from neighboring provinces, turned up to participate.  This same ceremony was observed one more time on Makha Bucha Day, the February full moon, in King Rama IV’s time.  The purpose was to make it possible for devotees living farther away or missing the Visakha ceremony to attend this important traditional merit-making event.  But no festive prayers were chanted by monks.  (Wimon Damsri 2557: 25).  Since that time, it has become a common practice to hold the Hae Pha Khuen That twice a year on Makha Bucha and Visakha Bucha.

          On a very special occasion such as the King’s visit to Wat Phra Mahathat, it is possible that the Hae Pha Khuen That will be held.

          Assistant Professor Somput Dhurajane and Assistant Professor Prayad Kasem (2559) explain that a present time devotees need not wait for the grand festive events in order to observe the religious tradition of putting the sacred cloth around the Relic Chedi.  This can actually be done any day.  Therefore those coming from far or unable to be there for the Makha Bucha, Visakha Bucha, or other festive celebration days of the Phra That Chedi can still venerate the Relics by themselves.  Doing the ritual on those important religious days is certainly more popular, and devotees bring their own sacred cloths.  Sometimes the temple will provide the cloths for anyone wishing to perform the ritual.

The Hae Pha Khuen That ritual is done in 3 steps:

          1.  Preparation for the Phra Bot Cloth

               Red, white and yellow are the favorite colors for the sacred cloth.  It can be of any length.  The common practice is to have several pieces sewn together – long enough to be draped around the Chedi base.

          The cloth is decorated with ribbons, beads, tufts, bright colored cloth strips, and floral patterns, etc.  But a very special Pha Bot piece will feature hand-drawn or printed pictures narrating the stories of the Buddha’s life, which is artistically done by craftsmen.  There are some which depict the past Ten Lives of the Buddha especially Vessantara’s.  Stories about Vessantara are seen more often in the Isan’s Bun Pha Wet ceremony (Somput Dhurajane and Prayad Kasem 2559).  The making of the Phra Bot cloth reflects the strong intension to worship the Buddha with this special offering.  But nowadays most people would prefer a plain long piece instead.

          2.  Preparation for the procession and the offering ritual

               The procession can be from any direction.  Sometimes there is just a single devotee coming and carrying the sacred cloth above his head, or it can be a group – big or small.  The procession is started either from outside or in the temple grounds.  So sometimes all day long there are processions going up to the Relics stupa.  Some are led by marching music bands.

          The procession arrives at the temple.  The offering rite as veneration for the Buddha starts.  The group leader says some prayers out loud, the others repeat after him.  A variety of prayers can be said before the offering act.  (Somput Dhurajane and Prayad Kasem 2559)

          After saying the offering prayer, the devotees will walk 3 rounds clockwise around the Relics stupa, carrying the sacred cloth above their head.  According to Khun Somput and Khun Prayad, it is allright if they do not walk, or walk as many rounds as they like, or walk 3 rounds around the low wall surrounding the stupa.

          Those coming in a big group will form a line as long as the cloth itself.  The cloth must be carried high above their head because it is considered sacred, being itself an item of worship for the Buddha.

          3.  Draping the PhraThat

               After a triple clockwise walk around the Relics stupa, the people who carry the cloth will go inside the wihan known as the Wihan Phra Song Ma (Equestrian Statue of Prince Sidharta), or the Phra Wihan Maha Bhinetsakrom, which stands to the north of the stupa.  Inside, there is a stairway leading up to the low wall surrounding the stupa.  The devotees will send 3-4 people as their representatives to do the draping with the assistance of some temple officers.  Not everybody is allowed up there.  The area behind the stupa is restricted for only those few who perform the actual draping.  The belief is that underneath the yard, i.e. in the basement, is where the Relics are enshrined.


Bibliography

Khao Sod. (18 January 2016).  “New Evidence Determining the Age of Phra That Nakhon.”  Khao Sod 25,9182: p. 16

Bhuwanart Sang-ngern. (2009).  “Management of the Archeological Resources Within Wat Phra That Woramahawihan in Amphoe Mueang, Nakhon Si Thammarat Province, Between B.E. 2549 – 2552.”  Bachelor’s Liberal Arts Thesis (Archeology), Faculty of Archeology, Silpakorn University.

Nakhon Si Thammarat Teachers’ College. (1985).  Important Traditions of Nakhon Si Thammarat People.  Nakhon Si Thammarat. Center of Southern Culture, Nakhon Si Thammarat Teachers’ College.

Wimon Damsri, Associate Professor. (2014).  Royal Pha Phra Bot: Factors and Promotional Media for the Preservation of Nakhon Si Thammarat’s Hae Pha Khuen That Tradition.  Nakhon Si Thammarat.  Center of Arts and Culture, Nakhon Si Thammarat Rajabhat University.

Somput Dhurajane, Assistant Professor, and Assistant Professor Prayad Kasem (editors). (2555 ko).  Chronicles of King Chulachomklao’s Visit to Southern Towns.  Nakhon Si Thammarat Project on the Studies and Tracing of  History and Culture, Nakhon Si Thammarat City Museum.

Somput Dhurajane, Assistant Professor, and Assistant Professor Prayad Kasem (editors) (2013 kho).  Chronicles of King Mongkutklao’s Visits Through the Southern Monthon, and to Nakhon Si Thammarat Province (B.E. 2458).  Nakhon Si Thammarat: Project on the Studies and Tracing of History and Culture, Nakhon Si Thammarat City Museum.

Somput Dhurajane, Assistant Professor, and Assistant Professor Prayad Kasem. (18 May 2016).  Interviews.  Nakhon Si Thammarat City Museum.