Bathing Ceremony. พิมพ์ อีเมล
เขียนโดย Phya Anuman Rajathon   

ANUMAN RAJATHON, PHYA. BATHING CEREMONY. JSS. VOL.42 (pt.1) 1954. 31-37

 

                                                   BATHING CEREMONY

                                                                  By

                                                 Phya Anuman Rajathon 

 

               As   already   mentioned   elsewhere,  the   ceremony   of   bathing  the
Buddha   image,   as  also   the   abbot   of    the    wat    and    the    aged   and
respected  elders,  forms  one  of  the  features  of  the Songkran  Festival.
I  have  described  it   very   briefly   in   order  to  give  a  cursory  view of
the   festival   in  all  its  aspects.   Here   follows  a  detailed  description.

 

          During  the  three  days of  Songkran  people  flock  to  the wat  in
their   best    clothes.   They   bring   with   them   candles,   joss   sticks,
flowers   and  small  bottles  of  Thai  scented  water  called  "nam ob"  or
water   saturated   with   perfumes.   At   the  wat   shrine   each  devotee
lights  a candle  and  three  joss sticks  and  places  them  together  with
a  single  flower  or a  bouquet  in  a  receptacle  in front of Buddha's altar.

 

          The worshippers  then make  obeisance to  the  Buddha  by partly
prostrating  themselves  thrice  before  His  image  in  a  prescribed  form.
Each  worshipper  kneels  with  his  hands  placed  palm  to palm raising
them  to  the  forehead   in  a   worshipful  attitude   and  then  prostrates
himself   on  the   floor   with  the   hands   now  separated  to  allow  the
forehead   to  touch   the  floor   in  between  the  two  palms. Such  salu-
tation  is  called  "benchangapradit"  (เบญจางคประดิษฐ์)   from  the  Sanskrit
"panchangapratishtha"   (fivefold  body  worship,  i.e.  with   the  forehead,
two  palms   and   two  knees  resting   on  the  floor. )   Such  salutation
among   the   Thai   is  the  highest  form  of  respect.  Salutation  by  full
prostration  on  the  ground  and   "kissing  the  earth  with  the  forehead"
is  unknown.

 

          After   worshipping   in   this   manner,   a   little   quantity  of  the
scented  water  is  poured  on  the  hands  of  the  Buddha  image. Such
a   ritualistic  act   is   called   in   Thai  " Song  nam  Phra  Putha  Rup "
(สรงน้ำพระพุทธรูป)   (bathing   the   Buddha   image. )

 

          Usually  such  a  ceremonial   bath  is  not  performed  within  the
shrine   when   there  are  crowds  of  people   participating.  Instead  the
image   is  taken  out  of   the   shrine,  sometimes in  procession,  to  a  

pavilion    where   everybody    may   have   convenient   access   to   it.    When

 

32                                                Phya Anuman Rajathon

  

restricted,  devotees  usually  content   themselves  with  sitting  on  the
heels  with  raised  hands  placed  palm  to  palm  in juxtaposition to the
forehead.

           An  observer  may  note  some  of  the  worshippers,  mostly the
women   while  in  such  position,   silently  move   their   lips  in  prayer,
although   there   is  no  prayer  in  the  strict  meaning  of  the  term  in
Buddhism.   The  women  may   be  asking   for  a  New  Year  blessing,
or  a  love  to  be  fulfilled.
 

           In  certain  places,  for  the  "bathing",  people  erect  a  wooden
trough  into  which ordinary  or  scented  water  is  poured  to  run down
to  the  Buddha  image  or  images  which  are  sometimes canopied. In
the  northeast  provinces  they  make  the  trough  with  bamboo, at  the
end  of  which  is  a  device  like  a  miniature  water-wheel  which works
as  a  spray.

            It  is  curious  to  note  that  in  Sriracha, a seaside resort about
100  miles  on  the  east  coast of  the  Gulf  of Siam, there is a Chinese
idol,   supposedly   a  titular   spirit   of  the  place.   It  also  receives  a
ceremonial   bath   during   Songkran   day.  The  idol  is  carried  in  pro-
cession  through  the  main  street  while people  sprinkle it with scented
water   on   the   way.  The  idol  is  afterwards  carried  to  the seashore
and   merrily  ducked many  times   into  the  sea  before  being  carried

back  to  the  pagoda.

            During Songkran,  the  weather  is scorchingly hot and  perhaps
the   devotees   consider   the  idol,  unsatisfied  with   mere   sprinkling,
requires   a  sea   bath  as
  well.  Such  unceremonious  ducking  of  the
idol  may  perhaps  hasten  the  advent  of  the  first  monsoon  which is
approaching.

            Not only  do  the  Buddha  images in Thailand  receive  the cere-
monial  bath,  but  elders  of  the  family  and  elder  monks  may receive
it   too.   Here   is   an  account   of   the   bathing  of  family  elders.   In
Bangkok,  especially  among  the  upper class, people are wont to make
a  traditional  call  on  their  elders  to  pay  their  respects  during  Song-
kran. This  they  do  by  pouring  scented  water  into  the  palms  of  the

 

  

                                      BATHING CEREMONY                             33

  

elder   who  will   then  duly   rub  it  lightly  on  his  head  and  face. The
elder,  in  the  old  days,  would  then  be  presented  by  the visitors with
a  "phanung"   (loin cloth)  and  a "pha  khao  ma"  for  
male  or  a "pha
hom"    for   a  female,   both  of  which  constituted  every  day  wear  in
those  days.

            Nowadays  the  elder  is  presented  with a  towel, a box of hand-
kerchiefs, 
a  box  of  soap  or  other  such  articles  and sometimes with
a   bottle   of    scented  water.   After   the   presentation  the  elder  will
bestow   his   blessing   and   best   wishes  upon  the  relatives  for  the
New  Year.

           A  gift  of a  bottle  of  scented  water is specially  appreciated by
the  older  generation  who  are  wont  to  smear  themselves  during  the
hot  season  with  a  preparation  of  soft  chalk  powder  called "din saw
phong"    with   scented   water   which   is   refreshing    to    the    skin.
Sometime  the  powder  is  ready-mixed  with  attar  of  roses  and  may
be   applied   lightly   with    a 
 towel    or   handkerchief.    Such   toilet
preparation    is    called    "paeng    sod"    or    fresh    toilet     powder.

           In  the  old  days,  up  to as  recently as 60 or 70 years ago, the
ceremonial   bath   was  the   regular   family  thing.   The  elder   would
seat  himself  on  a  broad  bench.  The  children  would  assist  him  in
the  bathing  by  pouring  the  scented  water  on  him. They also would
furnish  him  with  a  new  set  of  clothing   to  be  worn  after  the  bath.
Further   they   would  present  him  with  the  traditional  candles,  joss
sticks  and   flowers—emblems  denoting  the  highest  respect  among
the  Thai.

          Assuredly, a candle is a symbol of light; Joss sticks, as peculiar
to  the  Chinese,  in  place  of incense  burners, the symbol of  aromatic
vapour  ;  and  flowers,   the  symbol  of  beauty.  These  three  qualities
are  aesthetic  pleasures required  by man and possibly by supernatural
beings  as  well.

           In  some  parts of the country  the  New Year ceremonial bath is
performed  in  the  wat  or  monastery.  In  that  case  a  monk is invited
to  give  the  Buddhist  commandments or  "sila"  to the elder  before he
takes  the  bath  in  the  prescribed  manner.

   

34                                 Phya Anuman Rajathon 

 

            In  Chiengmai  as  elsewhere  in the north  this ceremonial bath
is   called   "dam  
hua"   or  immersing   of  the  head.  Undoubtedly,  in
the  old  days,  the  bath  was  an  actual  plunge  in  the water after the
manner   of   the   Hindus  in  Bengal  who  perform  the  traditional  puri-
ficatory  bath   in  the  river  during   their  Songkran  festival.

           Some  people in  Chiengmai  for  the occasion get themselves a
new  set  of  clothing,  put  it  in  a  silver  bowl,  and  take  it  to the wat
for  the monk  to bless  and  purify  with sprinkling  of  holy  water.

           We  now  come  to  the  ceremonial bath of a monk. It may take
place   on   any   of   the   three   days   of   Songkran.   The  monk   is
usually  the  abbot  of  the  monastery,  who  is  invariably  held  in high
esteem,  usually  old  and,  in  the  case  of  a village wat, a leading per-
sonage   in   the   community   life.   People   call  him  " Luang  Phaw "
(great  father).  He  is   not   only   their  spiritual   father  but  also  their
adviser   in   temporal   affairs   in   the   light   of   his  recognised  wide
knowledge  and  experience.  Sometimes  he  combines  the  versatility
of   doctor,  astrologer  and   adept  in  the  mystical  and  magical  arts
separately  or  all  rolled  into  one.

           He  is  always  an  unquestioned  mediator  in  disputes;  the vil-
lagers,  in  most  cases  preferring  to  abide  by  their  "Luang  Phaw's"
decision  rather  than  report  to  the  courts  or  other  local  authorities.

           It  is  not  difficult  to  see,  therefore,  that  such  a  man  would
command  hosts  of  disciples  falling  over  each  other  to  do  him the
traditional  honour  of  a  ceremonial  bath.  But  in such cases a notice
is  circulated  before-hand  specifying  the  exact  day  and  time  of the
ceremony  which  is  the  same  as  for  the  elder  of   a   family.  After
the  bath  the  abbot  gives  a  sermon  followed  by  his  blessing  for a
happy  New  Year.

           It may be pointed out that there was a tendency in recent years,
particularly  in  the  capital  of  Bangkok,  to  shift  the  ceremonial bath
observance   from   the   traditional   Songkran   festival   days   to   the
official  New  Year  on  January  1st.   But  orthodox  people  stubbornly
clung  to  the  time-honored  date  and  the  swing  at present seems to
be  definitely  with  them.

 

                                               BATHING CEREMONY                                            35

 

           A  unique  monk-bathing  ceremony  is  performed  in  a  certain
east  coast  district  on  the  afternoon  of  the first day of Songkran.The
abbot   or   other   monk   to   be   honored  is  invited  to   seat  himself
under   a   silken  curtained   canopy  in   a  gaily  beflagged  and  flower-
bedecked   bullock   cart.   Both   young   and  old  men  join  in  pulling
the   cart  around  the  shrine  thrice  in   a   clockwise  direction  to  the
accompaniment   of   music.   After  thus  circumambulating,  the cart is
pulled   to   a   pavilion   specially   erected   for  the  bathing  ceremony
usually  in  open  ground.  But  the  cart  takes  time  to  reach  its desti-
nation.   A  tug  of  war  ensues  as  to  who  shall   pull   the  cart.  Two
village  teams,  north   and  south,   decide   the   issue.  Each  team  is
made  up   of  young  men  and  girls.  Each  tries  its  best  to  tug  the
cart  from  the  other.

           The  tug-of-war  goes  on  sometimes  for  an  hour  or even more.
Meantime,  it  can  be  well  imagined  that  the  monk  on the cart must
go  through  the  unenviable  ordeal  of  being  bumped  and  jerked  and
tossed   about   over   ground   usually   none  too  smooth.  His  ordeal
mignt  indeed  be  a  tragic  one  were  it  not  that  the  good  people of
the   village,  knowing   what  was  coming,  already  had  provided  him
with  a  pillow  stuffed  with  hay  to  soften  the  impacts.
 

           Even so, the experience is none the less a trying one especially
if  the  monk  be old, though he, as well as the other participants, takes
it  as  part  of  the  traditional  fun.  And  besides, care  is  taken  not to
invite  a  monk  who  is  considered  too  old    infirm to stand the strain.

Further,  to   soften   the   'agony'   if  the  contest  is  a  prolonged  one
with  no  decision  reached  after  a  full  hour  or  so,  a  'truce' is called
to  permit  both  sides,  and  the  monk  too,  to  take  a breather to rest
and   partake   of   refreshments.   But  sooner  or  later  a  decision   is
reached   and   the   winning   team   then  ha the honour of  pulling the
cart  to  the  appointed  pavilion.

            To   celebrate  the   occasion,  victors  join   together  in  choral
singing,  dancing  and  the  exchange  of  wise  cracks, for the Siamese
are  as 
a  rule  a  sporting  race.

   

   36                                        Phya Anuman Rajathon

   

           After  his  ordeal  is 'decided' the  monk gets down from the cart
and  enters  the  pavilion   where  he  receives  his  ceremonial  bath  in
approved  style;   this   concluded,   the  crowd   entertain   themselves
in  the  wat compound to a huge feast financed from the common village
fund  and  amuse  themselves  
by  throwing  water  on  each  other.

           I  was  told  on good authority that in certain  villages in outlying
districts,  especially  in  the  northeast, the young girls seize the opport-
unity   at   songkran   of   ducking  their  favourite  young  monks.  They
will  come  upon  the  "luang  phi"  (great elder brother)  stealthily  when
he  is  in  his  cell  busy  meditating  or  reading  or  otherwise  preoccu-
pied.  Before  he  knows  anything,  he  finds  his  yellow  robes soaked
with  water :  he  is  a  victim  of  the  unceremonial bath which he takes
in  good  part as  a signal  mark  of esteem  from  the  young females.

          Giving a monk a ducking on the occasion of Songkran is deemed
a  highly  meritorious  act.  If  the  monk  be  elderly  his  permission  is
often  obtained  beforehand  when  he  usually   appoints  the  time  and
place  for  the  ceremony. Often  he  will  choose  to receive the ducking
in  the  refectory  when  he  is  taking  his  meal  with his brother monks.

          During  Songkran  no  one  by  virtue  of  his  rank,  title or calling
is   exempt  from  a  ducking. Even  such   exalted  local  dignitaries  as
the  district  commissioner   or   district  officer  (Nai  Amphur), who  are
usually regarded as petty gods by the country people, may be subjected
with  short  shrift  to  the  treatment,  even  as  they  are  walking  on the
public  road.   And  every  one  takes  it  in  good  part  as  an  honour to
both  recipient  and  giver.  The  recipient  gains  in  the  'respect'  shown
him  and  the  
conferer  of  the  bath  gains  not  only  merit  but  'face' in
direct  proportion  to  the  rank  and  status  of  the  one  he  ducks.

           In  the  hot  season  of the Songkran  water is sometimes difficult
to   get.   Indeed   it   is   often   muddy.   But   what   of   it. ?  The  mud
reduces   neither  the  dignity  nor  the  merit  won  by   the  performance.

           The  ceremonial  bath  is  not  restricted  to  the Songkran festival.
There  are  four  other  occasions  in  the  life  of  a  Thai.   They are :

   

                                                      BATHING CEREMONY                                                37


           1 )   After   the   first   shaving   of   the   hair   of   the   new  born.
This   is   to   rid   the  child   of   the  remnants  of  the  'mammalian' hair,
some  of  which  may  still  adhere  to  the  body. 

      2)   After  the  tonsure  ceremony  or  the  cutting  of  the  topknot-
(a  cultivated  tuft  of  hair  on  the  top  of  the  head. )  This  is  also  an
act  of  washing  away  the  remnants  of  the  pristine  hair  on  the  body.
Top  knots  are  rarely  seen  nowdays.

          3 )   After  a  wedding  ceremony.  Here  is  it  constitutes  an  act
of  purification  before  the  consummation  of  the  marriage. 

      4)   After   death.   Here   it   is   an   act   of   purification   of  the
corpse  preparing  itself  to  ascend  to  heaven  to  worship  at  the  Phra

 

Chulamani  Cedi  or  stupa  where  a  lock  of  Lord  Buddha's  hair or one
of   his  canine  teeth   is  installed.   People   believe  that  the  departed
who    worship   at   this   heavenly   shrine   gain   heaven.  It  is  undoub-
tedly   a  cult  of  the  Mahayana   vehicle  or  Northern  Buddhism  which
has  unconsciously  been assimilated  and  survived  among the southern
sect  of  Buddhists.

 

          On  the  occasions  noted  with  the  exception of the first one, the
bathing  ceremony  is  performed  by  relatives  and  friends.

          The  ceremonial   bath  during  the  Songkran  festival  constitutes
a   purificatory  act  to  start  the  New  Year  with  a  clean  slate,  as  it
were,  and  it  is  offered  as  homage  to  elders to obtain their blessings
and  best  wishes.

          There  is  another  kind  of  ceremonial  bath  which  requires  only
a   holy   person  (usually   an   elderly  monk)   to  perform.  It's  purpose
is  to  avert  calamities,  bad  luck,  or  evil  influences.  The  water  used
for  this  purpose  must  be  a  "nam
mon''  (น้ำมนต์)  or  specially blessed
water.

 

                                            __________

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

 
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