March 26, 2015
An ancient tradition where youth takes centre stage in a blaze of colour and a crescendo of noise
Where: Wat Pa Pao on Manee Noparat Road. Chaing Mai
This colourful tradition of the Shan people, known as Poy Sang Long, is to celebrate its young sons, who are to be ordained as novice monks. This annual event happens in only a selected number of Shan temples, in the provinces of Chaing Mai and Mae Hong Son.
The ancient custom was thought to have started with the first Buddhist “novice” Prince Rāhula, the Buddha’s own son who gave up his lavish nobility to follow his father’s spiritual teaching.
On the first day of this three-day festival, the selected boys known as luk kaeo, or “Crystal Sons”, who are usually between the ages of 7 -14, have their head and eyebrows shaved, to remove all vanity. They are then bathed in herbal water before feasting with their family after which they spend their first ever night in the temple.
The second morning of Poy Sang Long, finds the boys donning white turbans, each are then assigned three attendants, one to act as the body guard and one to shade him with an umbrella. The third is there to carry him atop his shoulders, as the boy prince is only allowed to touch the ground, either inside a family home or a temple. Once this process is finished, each new prince along with their attendants, set off in a parade to the temple, escorted by a mass of people, dressed in traditional Shan clothing, singing and dancing as they join in the festivities.
On the third day the boys are again carried in a procession, escorted by their attendants and flanked by family and friends, who are all eager to greet their newly found prince, as they believe their Crystal Son will bring them good luck.
This time the boys are attired in the most lavish of clothes and jewellery, with faces powdered to represent the most affluent of nobility, the parade is led by traditional Shan musicians in a mass of colour and noise.
The crashing noise and flamboyant colours, gives way to peace and harmony
This is the point when the extravagance comes to an end. The boys ask permission of the senior monk to be ordained. Once this has been granted, they start the process of removing the elaborate make up and costumes.
They then can change into the saffron robes of a traditional monk, that have already been provided by their parents. The boys will remain as novice monks for at least one month, as they learn the pillars of Buddhism
The ordination of a son is a proud moment for all Buddhist parents, as they believe it will give them the highest merit. While for the boys it is hoped that the memory of this special occasion will stay with them forever.
A snap shoot of the Shan people
Due to the ever changing Kingdoms and the changes in boarders in Asia they also inhabit parts of its neighbouring countries China, Laos and Thailand.
The majority of Shan are Theravada Buddhists (it is also the religion of approx. 95% of the Thai people), most speak the Shan language which is closely related to Thai and Lao.
In Thailand the Shan people are known as ‘Tai Yai’ and live mainly in the North Western provinces of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son, in the later province Shan make up the majority in numbers of the local population (having founded the town in the 1830’s).
For more on the Shan people see our post The Forgotten Hill Tribe
The parades are a vibrant, noisy and colourful affair and very popular with the Shan people, while they are rarely attended by others and almost never by foreigners, who are not aware of the importance of the festivals to this closely linked people.
If you are in the neighbourhood and you can deal with the noise of drums, gongs and other musical instruments combined with the cheers and shouts of the well-wishers……. along with a few tears from the mums of these little prince’s, then you should go along and fill your senses with this wonderful festival.
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