Wednesday, October 31, 2012

light the boat

Most people look forward to Buddhist Lent because of the boat racing festivals, which start about a month before the full moon of the 11th lunar calendar, and end with the boat racing in Vientiane, the day after the full moon. When I first saw 'boun suun heua', boat racing, I was still working in Thailand in the 80's. I had visited friends in Nong Khai and saw the first boat racing between Lao and Thai since 1975. It was a very laid back affair, and I sat at a river side restaurant with the few other spectators. Now, the affair is much bigger and companies sponsor the boat racing teams.

I took a walk down by the riverside for a while, but it was too crowded. Today was the women's events; tomorrow is the main event, the men's teams. I know a lot of people who will be having parties at their houses along the levee, so I decided to return home.

kathin at Wat M Wa

Buddhist Lent is the three month rainy season retreat, where monks and civilians alike stay at home, work in their rice fields, think inwardly to gain wisdom. No alcohol or violating any of the 9 main precepts - no sexual fooling around, no killing, no gambling, no intoxicants, no lying; for the truly religious, no sexual relations at all, no eating meat, no sleeping on a 'high bed' and another one. Oh well, the additional four are for the real hard core.

The evening starts off with offerings to the monks and listening to a sermon. Then there is the vong vieng, circling the temple building, holding incense and flowers, while the monks chant.

monks leading the procession

vong vieng

Then comes the time to release the fire boats - little circular floating boats, looking like a lotus pond, made of a road cut from a banana tree trunk with petals made of banana leaves with flowers arranged inside, with candles and incense.

setting off the boats

Then the people go to the river, and release boats containing offering to the spirits of the water, the naga spirits living under the Mekong river and in all places where water lives, like the rice fields and the lakes too.

lighting candles

People also make images of boats in homage for the life along the river. As the full moon rises, they light the candles in these boats.

village boat and krathong

Buddha image in moonlight

People leave offerings in front of the Buddha images. This is the image under the Boddhi tree at Wat Meaung Wa, the village where I live.