Phra Samut Chedi and the Red Cloth

The three month long Buddhist Retreat is now over and the rivers and waterways in Thailand are at their highest levels. Around the Kingdom Thai people are celebrating with temple fairs and boat races. Today saw the start of the twelve day temple festival in Samut Prakan. In Thai this is called “ngan chedi” and takes place to celebrate and worship Phra Samut Chedi on the West Bank of the Chao Phraya River. Every year, five days after the full moon in October and the end of the Buddhist Retreat, the folks of Samut Prakan come together to pay respect to the chedi by wrapping a new red cloth around the stupa. This tradition has been going on for several hundreds of years. Though, in the olden days, the chedi used to be on an island in the middle of the river. The Temple Fair in Samut Prakan is not only one of the largest in Thailand, but it is also believed to be the longest surviving temple fair.

The sacred red cloth that you can see in this picture is paraded around the townships of Samut Prakan and Phra Pradaeng. The journey started this morning at 8.30 a.m. with a ceremony at the city hall attended by the governor of Samut Prakan. It then led an hour long parade around the streets of Paknam. Back at the city hall, it was loaded onto a boat which then set off up-river towards Phra Pradaeng. As the river is long with several major bends, the journey takes about 50 minutes. I drove up there just in time to see it arrive. It was then loaded onto another float for a second parade around the city. However, this time it wasn’t quite so major. There was only one vehicle in the parade with several hundred people walking behind. Interestingly, they all carried a lotus flower which was different to the earlier parade. They also didn’t go too far. After about 800 metres, they did a u-turn and then headed back to the pier! Here they had a brief ceremony where people worshipped the red cloth by placing the lotus flowers on it. As it was being taken back to the boat, I quickly got back in my car and sped down to Phra Samut Chedi ready for the ceremony there.

I managed to get to Phra Samut Chedi before they sealed the area off. Normally only the governor of Samut Prakan and other local dignitaries take part in this ceremony. However, this year we had the Prime Minister of Thailand honour us with a visit. In addition, we had a lot of national media which made it more difficult than normal for me to get a good position to take a picture. However, as I have been to this ceremony quite a few times already, I knew the procedure. The boat arrived with the red cloth at about 1 p.m. It was then carefully unwrapped so that none of it touched the ground. It was then stretched out over the heads of the dignitaries and local people. In the picture above, you can see the out-going Governor of Samut Prakan in yellow on the left. Next to him is Primie Minister Somchai. Then the local District Chief. And then far right the Assistant Governor. A marching band then led the parade. (Click here to see more of my pictures of P.M. Somchai.)

What happened next was a parade around the chedi three times in a clockwise direction. Everyone scrambled to try and grab onto the red cloth as they believed it would bring them good luck. The people who were too late followed the parade behind. There were hundreds of people taking part this year. One complete circuit of the chedi took them about eight minutes.

Once the procession was finished, the red cloth was carefully handed over to members of the Rungjaeng family. For over a hundred years, this family has been responsible for making the red cloth. They are also the only people allowed to wrap the cloth around the chedi.

The red cloth is quite large and must weigh a lot. If it wasn’t for their skill, then surely a crane would be needed to hoist it to the top. But, they went up, barefoot and with no harnesses, to the very top carrying the red cloth.

They made it all look very easy. Down below, female members of the family called out to them to take it easy and not to fall down. They didn’t seemed concerned at all at how high they were. They worked quickly and amazingly it only took them about 30 minutes to finish.

Down below, Prime Minister Somchai, was entertained with dancers while he occasionally glanced up at the progress. In this picture, he is flanked with the in-coming governor and the out-going governor of Samut Prakan. At the completion of the ceremony, extremely loud rockets were fired up into the sky which made his bodyguards a bit nervous. Obviously no-one had told them about this. Although the ceremony was not marred with protestors, they came prepared as there was a full platoon of riot police hiding behind a nearby building.

The temple fair is now open until the end of the month. If you get a chance then it is really worth coming to see. Many of the stalls are open all day. But, the numbers increase tenfold when they close the roads through Paknam at about 5 p.m. This week we have boat races and on Wednesday evening there will be a candlelit procession around the chedi. And of course, there will be a lot of delicious Thai food. I will be sharing pictures and reports with you over the next two weeks. I will also be posting details of the Temple Fair over at the ThailandQA.com Forums and my photo album at www.PaknamPhotos.com. We post all the latest Thai travel news over at www.ThailandQA.com so make sure that you check it our regularly.

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