Every part of this beautiful world has its own set of customs and rituals that bring in a factor of individuality to any region. Now that we are talking about various customs and festivals of the world, it will be of a matter of great interest to talk about Poy Sang Long, the age-old Asian tradition. If you are wondering what that is, then this article is a must-read for you to know everything there is to know about this festival celebrated in Myanmar and the neighbouring area of Thailand, in its northern part.
When is Poy Sang Long Celebrated?
Poy Sang Long is celebrated in the period of post-March 20 to mid-April. Dates of 2019: 20th March 2019 - 20th April 2019.
What is Poy Sang Long?
Translated as the 'Festival of the Crystal Sons', Poy Sang Long is an exclusive ceremony meant for young to adolescent boys between the age of seven and fourteen years of age. The word 'Poy' signifies a religious event whereas 'Sang Long' means a young boy who is about to get ordained as a monk. Better understood as a 'Rite of Passage' ceremony, which is categorised as a transitional practice in which an individual will be moving from one group to a newer one, mostly, associated with a change in their overall status in the society. Poy Sang Long festival is a popular traditional practice among the Shan people in Myanmar and Thailand where Shan immigrants have introduced their cultural norms among the people of their sect. The Shans are also known as Tai Yaian which is a Thai tribe in its ethnicity.
It is believed that the tradition of Poy Sang Long started when the first Buddhist novice, Prince Yahura, son of Buddha, gave up his luxurious lifestyle to follow in the footsteps of his father.
Poy Sang Long festival is majorly concerned with the young boys taking their monastic vows to initiate their monastery life. The young boys are taught tenets of Buddhist teachings and how to lead a self-disciplined life as is expected from monks. Once they take the vows, they are required to spend time at the monastery which can be either a few days, weeks or even months in some cases. During the festival, a considerably large group of boys have ordained as s'ma' era (novitiate monk) in the ceremony.
Poy Sang Long in Thailand
In Thailand, which is a neighbouring country to Myanmar, the Shan immigrants reside in the northern part and hence, also observe the Poy Sang Long festival. Here, the vibrant festival is celebrated for three days. During the festival, the young boys are dressed as princes resembling Gautam Buddha as he belonged to a royal family and was a prince himself before he opted for the religious path. The boys sit atop the shoulders of an older male family member for all the three days and on the third day they are ordained after which they spend a week in the monastery. The boys' feet should not touch the ground for the three days unless they are in the temple or their family home. During these three days, all relatives and friends of a boy are excited to meet him as it is believed that it brings good luck.
In the Chiang Mai region, the ceremony takes place mainly in two temples whereas, in the Mae Hong Son province, the ceremony is usually four to five days long. Here also, the Poy Sang Long festival takes place in two temples - Wat Ku Tao and Wat Pa Pao. Around 50 boys are a part of the festival celebration at the Wat Ku Tao temple.
How is Poy Sang Long Celebrated?
The three days of festivities is a very colourful affair.
Rup Sang Long (First Day)
‘Rup Sang Long’ is the first day of the festival. On this day, the families of the boys get together, exchange gifts and indulge in a sumptuous feast. The boys are then carried on the shoulders of an elder member of their respective families and taken to the temple.
Once at the temple, the hair and eyebrows of the boys are shaved off. A purification ritual is carried out where each boy is bathed in holy water. After that, they are paraded around accompanied by musicians who play the flutes, drums, and cymbals.
During the parade, each boy has three attendants by his side. One, who carries him on his shoulder; the second, who carries an umbrella to provide shade from the sun and the third, who protects him and the jewels he wears.
Kham Kaek (Second Day)
The boys have adorned in snow white turbans. The families resume their feasting and dancing in celebration of the boys.
The boy is once again led in procession to the temple. Once there, they offer prayers to Buddha and gifts to the resident monks while seeking their blessings.
Hae Khrua Lu (Third Day)
This is the day of ordination. The boys are seated on thrones and once again led to the temples.
Once here, they seek permission from the monks for their ordination.
After they are accepted by the monks, the boys take part in exchanging vows, change their princely robes for simple yellow monk robes and are finally accepted as novices.
The monk robes are a gift to the boy from his parents. The moment when the boys step into monkhood is treated as one with great reverence. The boys getting ordained as novices is a matter of pride for Buddhist parents. A delectable feast is set up for the boys once they have entered the monastery, monks are not allowed to have food after midday.
Rice wine is consumed in enormous quantities during Poy Sang Long by the attendants and musicians who keep the fervour high for all the three days. Each day, the procession that follows the boys either indulges in dance and music or they queue up to carry offerings such as robes and bowls for the monks, pillows, mats, water containers, utensils, trays, towels, candles, silver and gold artificial lotus flowers, bank notes and dried food. Towards the end of the procession, people hold bamboo branches.
Sometimes, the boys also ride horses. They ask for blessings from the noble spirits to bless the festivities and then participate in dance and music which are an essential part of Poy Sang Long.
If you are planning that long overdue trip to Myanmar or Thailand, then make sure that you expect it around the months of March-April so that you get the unique chance to witness this cultural extravaganza. This exciting and colourful festival is a must-watch as there is plenty of celebrations throughout the three days, whether it is in the daytime or the evening. Do not miss out on the chance of witnessing Poy Sang Long which is rightfully a spectacular celebration in which friends and family of the boys' flock together to rejoice in the ceremony. The food stalls, the dance and music performances and a lot of other entertaining activities are a pure delight to those who are seeing it for the first time.