Monday, April 29, 2013


Having spent most of the Makha Bucha holiday in various temples of Chiang Mai, I returned to Wat Chedi Luang for the evening prayer and ceremonies. Since I had a little bit of time left, I went over to the next temple, Wat Pan Tao. A beautiful wooden temple, which was a former palace, this temple had a huge crowd waiting in the back for the ceremonies. Talking to some American tourists I learned that Makha Bucha will be celebrated here with a huge candlelight activity, so I also hung around. A lot of photographers put up their tripods and got ready well before the sun was ready to set. I had a great spot in the first row, where the novice monks started to set up the floating candles in the water and along the back of the temple grounds. 
What bothered me though was that I held out for something which I did not know and which in my mind had nothing much to do with a traditional way of celebrating this important Buddhist holiday. It was more an event which was put in place for photographers, tourists and other visitors. When the sun finally set and the moon came out over the Vihara building of the temple, I got a bit anxious (not a good virtue for such a holiday). When I heard the prayers I was thinking "what am I doing here?" and gave up my good spot and went to the Vihara to participate in the prayers and in the following candlelight procession which goes around the Vihara three times. I felt better after that and went back, now behind the masses of people who still waited for the "photo shoot". I saw it only from the back, with my camera high above people's heads and with a (in my mind) mediocre and blurry result. Still nice to see the novice monks lighting the candles and slowly walking though hundreds of candles on the floor, sitting down as in meditation while the crowd clicked away. It was nice to see but not what I had come for, so I went on to Wat Chedi Luang to do my traditional style celebration of Makha Bucha Day. 
I returned once more after that. The novice monks were all gone and the lights were still burning. Now the almost meditative setting of the lights had turned into a massive photo shoot with every Thai lady and man wanting to look pretty while standing amongst the candles, smiling into cameras. The meditation music which was supposed to give the place a serene setting was hardly able to fulfill it's role amongst the chatter of people. I left with a very mixed feeling. While the photos looked nice, meditative and serene, it was just too big of a crowd and to set-up of an event, which I like to spend meditating, praying and paying respect to the Buddha. In a tourist place like Chiang Mai, it might be a nice idea to draw people to a temple and at the same time keep the tourists away from the traditional ceremonies. I am sure it was well meant but the sheer amount of photographers and onlookers was overwhelming.

The beautiful Buddha statue inside the old temple building.
Festively decorated for Makha Bucha holiday.
Photographers setting up their gear in first row well before sunset.
Setting up the floating candles.
Novices putting up decorations, laterns and candles.
Sunset - full moon rising

Floating candles being lit in the water.
Candle light procession around the Vihara.
Candles in a blocked off area of the temple.
Novice monks lighting up the candles around the Buddha image.
Meditative and serene setting for the photographers

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