Wi takes part in Poy Sang Long celebration
Every year at the end of March and the beginning of April the Poy Sang Long Ceremony takes place in many Shan temples throughout northern Thailand. It is the Shan Buddhist rite of passage ceremony celebrated by the Shan people, undertaken by boys usually between the age of 7 and 14 years of age.
It consists of taking novice monastic vows and participating in monastery life for a period of time that can vary from a week to many months or more. The ceremony goes on for three days, as the boys (dressed up like princes in imitation of the Lord Buddha, who was himself a prince before setting out on the religious path) spend the entire time being carried around on the shoulders of their older male relatives. On the third day they are ordained and enter the monastery for a period of at least one week, and sometimes many years. The boys are beautifully made up with rouge and lipstick and dressed in fine silks making the festival very colourful.
Wi, a member of Rejoices full-time staff, is ethnic Tai Yai (Shan). This year, on the three days March 29th-31st, Wi and his family celebrated the Poy Sang Long for a nephew at Wat Ku Tao, one of the Shan Temples in Chiang Mai.
The following article is taken from a back issue of "Welcome to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai" magazine.
The Shans, ancestrally known as Thai Yai, are close cousins of the Thai people, which is not surprising as country boundaries were extremely fluid in former times. The festival of Poy Sang Long is essentially Thai Yai (as are the words in proper Thai it is called Buad Loog Gaew) and means "ordaining the beloved sons". The Thai Yai, like their full-Thai cousins, are devout Buddhists who annually present young sons (ages ranging from 7 - 14 years) to be ordained as novices. The boys, and their parents, earn merit from this act of devotion while the boys also learn the tenets of Buddhist teaching and the self-discipline required of a monk.
Also, throughout the neighbouring towns, whether it be the towns of Mae Sariang, Mae Lanoy, Khun Yuam or the provincial city of Mae Hong Sorn, young boys will participate in the traditional ceremonials which are bright with colour and Thai Yai culture. Not only are the boy's proud parents and relatives involved in the excitement but visitors flock from other parts of Thailand to see and photograph the spectacle.
The end of March and the beginning of April is the time of the 3-day festival of Poy Sang Long when, in the city of Chiangmai, pre-teen boys are inducted into the Buddhist novice hood. The first day of the 3-day festival, the young participants are the focus of family feasting and gift giving before the boys are escorted to the temple to have their eyebrows and heads shaved and be ritually cleansed and anointed by bathing in sacred water. The parade to the temple is accompanied by the shrill of flutes, the beat of drums and the clash of cymbals as local musicians give their support and respect to the boys.
On the second day, now shorn of his head of fine black hair, the young boy wears a snow-white turban and is again the centre of family feasting and dancing. Once more he will parade to the temple, with his dancing and drumming entourage, to offer gifts to Lord Buddha and the resident monks. A horse is sometimes featured in this parade as it symbolises the vehicle on which rides the community Inthakin Pillar (fertility totem). Around 09.00 hrs., the parade will flow slowly from Thapae Gate through the road up to Chiangmai Gate, Manee Nopparat Road, and arrive at the temple. During the evening, prayers for guidance and blessings from the "spirits" will be intoned and recitations, reminding the boys of the following day's full ordination, will be said. Celebration will also take place that includes musical performance of dancing, singing, and merriment.
Early morning of the final day, the day of ordination, each boy will be transformed into a "Jewelled Prince" ("Loog Gaew" in Thai). His face will have a cosmetic makeover with powder, rouge and lipstick and then he will be dressed in glistening, sequined finery of every hue. On his head will be the white turban halloed with fresh flower blossoms. Today, the boy is carried aloft on his own personal throne to the temple, surrounded by his family and well wishers with his ears ringing from the strident clash of Shan music. Although he is only a young boy, he will handle the parade with all the panache, aloofness and dignity of a "Jewelled Prince". It is magical to see this young figure, composed in expression but bright with colour and glitter, as he progresses to the temple.
Once inside the temple, each boy will ask the Abbott for permission to be ordained. With permission granted, the boy will take vows and then divest himself of his colourful finery in exchange for the humble saffron robes of a Buddhist novice. And here, in the temple, the boy novice will remain for at least one month. During this time he will follow the routines of temple life, learning from and watching his elders as he absorbs the essential foundations for a responsible and rewarding adulthood.