I had the good fortune to attend a revered Abbot’s cremation this past weekend here in Chiang Mai that, contrary to western traditions, was anything but a somber affair!
White is the mourning color worn in the north of Thailand and that, accompanied by a riot of colorful umbrellas, fans, flowers, and of course saffron robes set the mood for a celebratory farewell to a monk who dedicated his 91 years to his fellow Buddhist followers.
It was a sizzling hot day, as it is this time of year. The street fronting Wat Mahawan was abuzz with activity and lined with food stalls offering gratis food and drink, prepared by members of the wat, to all. Eating customarily precedes the events of the cremation day rights which generally conclude at dusk with the cremation. A constant flow of cold water was graciously offered throughout the day.
On entering the wat, chanting was taking place in front of an enormous colourful elephant bird like cremation tower that would later be pulled through the streets by able volunteers in a procession around the old moated city towards the cremation grounds.
Once the cremation tower was manoeuvred into the street a crane with a suspended volunteer placed the crowning finial atop the tower and the procession commenced. The streets were lined with crowds paying their respects to the Abbot’s spirit on its journey towards being released from this world.
When the tower arrived at the cremation grounds along with a stream of monks, abbots, dignitaries, family, and guests, the festivities began in earnest.
There was chanting, music, fireworks, and eventually the cremation tower was set alight and burned with amazing haste and intense heat as the crowd watched in muted near silence.
It was an amazing experience that defies explanation in any western sense, so I have let pictures express where words would summarily fail.