Poi Sang Long – A Unique Buddhist Tradition

 

Poi Sang Long Honors Buddha through an Elaborate Ordination Ceremony

 

In the town of Mae Hong Son an elaborate ceremony is conducted every year. It’s called Poi Sang Long and this traditional ritual stretches back through generations and is an important ritual for all young male followers of Buddhism in the region to undergo.

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The Tai Yai people of Mae Hong Son are also called the Shan people and share an ancestral heritage with the Shan people living across the border in Myanmar. Most of them live an agricultural existence and so the Poi Sang Long ceremony is held during the dry season when there is little work to be done in the fields.

Poi Sang Long Festival in Mae Hong Son Thailand
The Tai ethnic group gathers at Wat Chong Kham, Mae Hong Son, Thailand.

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The Multi-Day Ritual of Poi Sang Long

The ritual that these young boys undergo takes from 3-7 days and the boys must also undergo a month of training and study before the ritual in order to prepare them for life as a Buddhist.

Poi Sang Long Festival in Mae Hong Son Thailand
A young novice has his head in shaved in preparation for his ordination.

On the first day of the ceremony the boy’s heads are shaved by their parents and relatives at Wat Pang Lo. After that, they are bathed, anointed with special waters and changed into white clothing.

The boys are then carried back home as they have assumed their role as a prince and their feet must not be allowed to touch the ground.

Poi Sang Long Festival in Mae Hong Son Thailand
Barbers prepare to shave the heads of young novices.
Poi Sang Long Festival in Mae Hong Son Thailand
Novices chant after undergoing the shaving of their heads.

The second day of the ceremony begins early at 4 AM at Wat Pang Lo. Their faces are elaborately made up and they are dressed in elegant clothing and bedecked with jewelry. At this point, the boys are referred to as ‘Sang Long or ‘Look Kaew’, the jeweled sons.

The make-up comes from the performing arts traditions of the past. The main male character in those performances, pra’ek, must be beautiful and unique.

Poi Sang Long Festival in Mae Hong Son Thailand
Novices are made-up in recognition of the performing artists of the past.
Poi Sang Long Festival in Mae Hong Son Thailand
An adorned novice contemplates his upcoming ordination.
Poi Sang Long Festival in Mae Hong Son Thailand
Several novices pray before beginning their merit-making travels.

At 7 AM they are carried around the city, accompanied by traditional music and drumming on special traditional drums. They visit temples and pillars, where they ask for forgiveness and blessings from the abbots as well as civic centers in the community where they are greeted by the community and string bracelets are tied on their wrists by well-wishers.

Throughout the ceremony, they are carried on piggy-back or in chairs. Attendants will also roll-out carpeting for them. The ‘Sang Long’ are considered to be princes and there are teams of servants, called Ta Pae, on hand to take care of them.

Poi Sang Long Festival in Mae Hong Son Thailand
Novice are carried piggy-back or in horse carts along their merit-making routes.
Poi Sang Long Festival in Mae Hong Son Thailand
A young novice seems to enjoy all the attention.

An Elaborate Procession through the City

The next day is the grand procession through the streets of the town along with family members and local government officials of Mae Hong Son’s Tai Yai community.

It’s an elaborate parade consisting of handmade floats, offerings to the temples, music and dancing and the boy’s themselves being carried along. The parade moves through the streets and then visits the temples further out of town.

Poi Sang Long Festival in Mae Hong Son Thailand
Transportation of the novices comes in all shapes and forms.
Poi Sang Long Festival in Mae Hong Son Thailand
Ceremonial drums accompany the procession along their route.
Poi Sang Long Festival in Mae Hong Son Thailand
A young novice gazes out to the well-wishers along the route.
Poi Sang Long Festival in Mae Hong Son Thailand
Mothers celebrate the ordination of their sons.

On the final morning of the ceremony, the boys arrive at Wat Pang Lo where they will begin the formal ordination ceremony which will certify them as novice monks in the teachings of Buddha.

Poi Sang Long Festival in Mae Hong Son Thailand
The ordination ceremony is a solemn affair.
Poi Sang Long Festival in Mae Hong Son Thailand
The young monks have practiced the teachings of Buddha before they were ordained.
Poi Sang Long Festival in Mae Hong Son Thailand
A young novice is confident in his ability to follow the teachings of Buddha.
 
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