Buad Nak Chang (Ordination Parade on Elephant’s Back)

7087 |

title.alternative :
event date.month : April
event date.lunar month : 6th lunar month
location : Ban Had Saew,Sukhothai province
province / region : Northeast
: Surin
subject : rites of passage
relations : Hae Chang Buat Nak (Ordination Procession on Elephants)
keywords : elephant,Buddhist,ordination ceremony
creator : Pattanan Oatjetsada
date.issued : 17 Mar 2016
date.last updated : 20 Sep 2017

Ordination Parade on Elephant’s Back

The religious tradition of entering monkhood is generally observed in the 6th lunar month. However, it can be at any time of year which is convenient for the person interested in pursuing the path of dharma. Many conventional beliefs and practices are reflected in this religious faith. An ordination candidate is elegantly dressed like Prince Siddharta before the Prince set out on his quest for enlightenment. Wearing dark glasses, the candidate rides on an elephant. The dark glasses signify that he still lives in ignorance. He takes them off only after he is formally ordained in the ordination hall and becomes a monk. Monkhood will help him “see the light” of the dharma. The lavishly dressed candidate represents one who is still indulged in materialistic desires. After the ordination, he dons the saffron robe and becomes a monk who denounces worldly things. The elephant in the ordination parade has on it an elegant clothing, fit for a king, too. This religious tradition is known in Thai as “Buad Nak Chang”. It obviously corporates many mixed elements of folk beliefs, as “nak” can mean a supurb/precious elephant, or a man about to be ordained into monkhood.

          Ban Pring in Tambon Ba, Ta Tum District, in Surin Province, is an ancient Thai-Khmer community. The people here speak the northern Khmer language. These Khmer descendants respect elephants, and traditionally follow the belief that elephants are lucky, meritorious animals. The belief could have come from the fact that they are quite closely related to the Kuy people, a large indigenous ethnic group known as skilled elephant trainers. Many traditional, spiritual practices of the Kuy are similar to those of the Kuy A-jiang living in Ban Kra Po and Ban Ta Klang of Tambon Kra Po, Ta Tum district, Surin Province. Ban Pring community is a multi-racial one of the Kuy, the Khmer and the Laotian, who for generations had moved in and settled down in the area. Their intermarriage and cultural integration are obviously manifested in their ordination ceremony of buad nak chang. This group ordination is a unique cultural practice of these mixed ethnic groups.

Buad Nak Chang B.E. 2559 in Ban Pring

          The hosts prepared for the ceremony by finding the auspicious dates for the big event. They consulted with the abbot of Wat Phosisawang, Phra Kru Siriphromson. The auspicious time would be April 20. All candidates were to get themselves ready, including taking leave from work.

          Phra kru had something to say about the ordination ceremony. In days gone by, candidates riding on elephants and making their trips to the temple was not very common because it would mean that the hosts were quite wealthy to be able to host such an extravagant activity. Things would be easier if they happened to have some relatives who kept elephants. The applicants were required to stay for some time at the temple, where they observed some ecclesiastic practices and learned Pali. But in present day society, they will go to the temple only in the evening, as different people do different things for their living. The ordination procedure, nevertheless, remains the same: beginning with the “su khwan nak” (spirit calling ritual), followed by the “hae nak” (parade of the applicants), and most importantly the ordination rite conducted in the ordination hall.

          Very early on the “Rome/Ruam Day,” 19th April 2016, audio equipment blasted out from the nak’s houses. There were 9 applicants. Some of them were on leave from work in order to be able to enter the monkhood. This is quite a common thing since ordination is a religious tradition that is commonly observed by Buddhist men. Village folks participated. They brought bowls of rice, flowers, refreshments, and some money. They made their rounds of visits to all the nak’s houses.

          The first ritual was the shaving off the nak’s head. The nak requested for their parents’ forgiveness for any wrong doings they might have done previously. They also asked permission to enter monkhood. They showed respects to elderly relatives by prostrating in front of them. Then the parents and the senior relatives started clipping the nak’s hair.

          The bai si su khwan took place in the afternoon. It was done separately in each nak’s house. Given the fact that a ritual teacher/conductor is hard to find these days, the su khwan could not be all done at the same time because the teacher had to make his rounds. As a result, the su khwan was done either in the afternoon of the Rome Day or in the morning of the next day, before the nak procession. The Kuy people do it differently from the folks in Ban Kra Po-Ta Klang. They will do a group ritual at the temple before the separate ones at each house.

          The applicants prepared themselves for the ceremony by being bathed and having their face made up. They wore the nak’s white robe, and had red-green-blue cloths draped over one shoulder. On the head they had a headgear.

          The nak were led in procession 3 rounds around the ceremonial venue. One parader carried the khwan basket (a bai si/offering tray) in which there were a ladle and balls of cooked rice. They paraded in the 8 compass directions and did the riak khwan (calling the spirits). They did like scooping up the spirits and putting them in the baskets. After 3 rounds, they came back and were seated in the ceremonial area. A Brahmin teacher lit some candles and incense sticks, paid respect to deceased teachers and offered them some ritual items. He lit more candles and incense, this time to inform the deities and the land spirit. Then they performed the su khwan or riak khwan. This concluded, the guests were treated to plentiful food prepared by the hosts. The nak would have to stay overnight at the temple, and return the next day for the ordination procession.

          The joyful occasion was characterized by a festive atmosphere. That was the next morning of April 20. Quite early the elephant group, hired by the hosts to be part of the procession to the temple, arrived. The men and the elephants needed time to dress up beautifully for the occasion. Food was provided for the men and the animals by the hosts. The hosts additionally would have to pay homage to the spirits of deceased elephant trainers by presenting them some offerings at their shrine (“Pakam Spirit House”). The mahouts acted as representatives of the spirits in receiving the offerings and taking them home, as was the tradition. Things have changed by now and the mahouts do not do so any more. The ritual therefore was just about informing the spirits and asking for their blessings in the parading ritual and for the happiness and well-being of all participants, including the elephants. The last thing the people did was the rite of picking at random some jaw bones of the boiled chickens offered to the spirits which, so believed the people, can predict fortunes or misfortunes to come. That day many bones picked by the hosts turned out to be nice bended ones, which meant luck and success.

          Then it was time to move and gather at the temple. The ordination rite started. The abbot led the prayer chanting and delivered a short sermon. Next was the nak procession. The nak riding on elephants were led in procession through the village streets (in the old community). At noon they, and the elephants, took a break at the sacred “Kud Nam Sai” where a Grandfather Shrine stood. Sacrificial offerings and drinks were presented to the shrine spirits. The paraders had lunch and a short rest. Then the parading resumed, this time heading to the temple.

          They arrived at the ordination hall of Wat Phosisawang. The nak dismounted from the elephants. Their relatives, overjoyed and proud and happy, were awaiting. After the ordination was completed, the newly ordained monks came out and did almsgiving by scattering coins around on the ground, which were quickly snatched up by the relatives present. These coins were meant to be kept for good luck. The ordination ceremony was thus concluded.


The Thai Tipitaka, revised edition, under the Royal Patronage B.E. 2530.