Photos – Buddhist festival honors monks
By Dena Mellick, contributor
Decatur’s Theravada Buddhist community came together this past Sunday to celebrate the traditional end of the rainy season in Thailand – often referred to as “Buddhist Lent” – with a festival and ceremony giving thanks to the monks for teaching the Dhamma (or Dharma) year-round.
Dubbed “Culture: Then and Now,” a centerpiece of the festival was the traditional Kathina ceremony. Lay Buddhists present new robes and other gifts to the monks as a way to show gratitude toward them.
Before the presentation of the robes, a procession of cheering people wrapped halfway around the Theravada Buddhist temple. The participating men, women, and children wore everything from traditional Thai dance garb to jeans and sandals. They carried packaged monk robes, gifts, and two “money trees.” After the third trip around the temple, they entered it and sat down until the moment they were called to present the gifts to the monks under the shadow of a towering gold statue of Buddha.
Melissa O’Shields, a resident of Avondale Estates, took part in Sunday’s procession and gave alms to the monks. O’Shields said she started practicing Buddhism in the early 90s and found the Wat Buddha Bucha in 1995 while searching for a monk to officiate her wedding.
Now she visits the Wat Buddha Bucha regularly, assisting the monks there by making them coffee or driving them around.
“They’re not allowed to be alone with a woman, so if I take them to the doctor or somewhere like that, I always have to have a man come along,” O’Shields said. She explained that if she or another woman presents the monks with a drink or food, they first put the item on a cloth, and the monks then pull the cloth to themselves.
Three monks live permanently at the Wat Buddha Bucha, but on Sunday, eight additional monks were there for the Kathina ceremony. While the lay people enjoyed a meal outside on picnic benches before the ceremony, the monks gathered in a kitchen and ate their meal together – an occurrence that is only permitted between dawn and noon.
The day is considered “most important for the Buddhist monks,” said participant Jom Sichanthalath. The young man wore blue pants, a white tunic top, and a blue sash. He described his outfit as one traditionally worn by a king. Sichanthalath walked around with a basket, asking attendees if they wanted to write down a wish for Loi Krathong.
Loi Krathong is a Thai festival that involves floating baskets covered in flowers, candles, and incense. King Tantivejkul, chairman of the board of directors for the Thai Association of Georgia, explained that Loi Krathong normally happens in November in Thailand, but the association wanted to include the Loi Krathong celebration with Kathina.
“This is particularly significant because it is believed that when you float the krathong, all your sorrow and all bad luck will float away. So this is a time for happiness. And as for Kathina, this is also a time for joy as well because this is the time where people can really, what we call ‘make merits,’” Tantivejkul said.
Pausing between offering paper for wishes, Sichanthalath, the young man dressed as a king, agreed.
When asked if he could reveal his own wish, Sichanthalath declared he wished for good health. Then he took off again, slipping back into a sea of smiling faces with his basket of wishes.