The Poy Sang Long Festival in Chiang Mai

Dressed up boys
"Jewel Princes" during the Poy Sang Long Ceremony at Wat Ku Tao

The Poy Sang Long Festival at Wat Ku Tao

The Poy Sang Long Festival (ปอยส่างลอง) takes place each year between March 20 and mid-April in many temples in North Thailand. It is in fact a ceremony with a festive character. The Shan-temple Wat Ku Tao is currently the only temple in the city of Chiang Mai where they organize this ceremony. In the past there was a Poy Sang Long ceremony in Wat Pa Pao, another Shan temple close by.

The festival is essentially Shan or Tai Yai and means “ordaining the beloved sons”. Boys of 12 years and older enter the temple to be ordained as novice monks. They will learn the tenets of Buddhist teaching and the self-discipline required of a monk. After being ordained, they will stay in the monastery for a time that can vary from a week to many months or more. Usually, a large group of boys is ordained at the same time. Wat Ku Tao usually has more than 50 boys involved in this ceremony. Around Chiang Mai, there are lots of local temples that organize similar but smaller ceremonies.

Monks shaving novices
Shaving heads of future novices at the Poy Sang Long Ceremony, Wat Ku Tao
Dressed up boys on shoulders poy sang long festival
Poy Sang Long Ceremony at Wat Ku Tao

A Colorful ceremony

Poy Sang Long is a very colorful and interesting ceremony. For the duration of the event, the temple grounds are bustling with activity during the daytime and in the evening. Family and friends of the boys are there as well as many visitors. There are food stalls, music and entertainment. The boys are carried around the temple grounds on the shoulders of their older male relatives. In Chiang Mai, the ceremony lasts three days and follows more or less below schedule. In Mae Hong Son province, the ceremony sometimes takes four or five days.

On the first day, “Rup San Long” day, the boys are the focus of family feasting and gift-giving before they are escorted to the temple. Monks shave their eyebrows and heads and bathe them ritually. After this they are dressed up as princes to more or less imitate the life of the Buddha. The parade to the temple is accompanied by the shrill of flutes, the beat of drums, and the sound of gongs as local musicians give their support and respect to the boys. During the procession, each boy is accompanied by three attendants: one to carry him, another to shelter him from the sun with a tall gold umbrella, and the third to guard his precious jewels.

Dressed up boys sitting on a stage poy sang long festival
Novices at the Poy Sang Long festival in Wat Ku Tao, Chiang Mai

The second and the third days

On the second day, “Kham Kaek” day, the young boy wears a snow-white turban and is again the center of family feasting and dancing. Once more family members carry him in a parade to the temple, accompanies by dancing and drumming, to offer gifts to Lord Buddha and the resident monks. The third day, “Hae Khrua Lu” day, is the day of ordination. This day begins with another procession of the boys to the temple for ordination. At Wat Ku Tao you can watch this parade on the grounds of the stadium, next to the temple. At the temple, the boys ask permission to be ordained by the senior monks. Once the monks have accepted this, the boys take vows and change their princely attires to yellow robes to become full novices. If you are in North Thailand in March or April don’t miss the Poy Sang Long Festival.

Dressed up boy with glasses North Thailand Festivals Chiang Mai
Poy Sang Long Ceremony at Wat Ku Tao

Pictures of History: Poy Sang Long in Mae Sariang

The late American anthropologist Charles Keyes and his wife Jane took many photographs of the Poy Sang Long ceremony in Mae Sariang district, Mae Hong Son province. American anthropologist Charles Keyes was based. He lived there with his wife and young son from August 1967 until November 1968. His research focussed primarily upon the relationships between Thai and indigenous people in this district. You can find the fantastic Charles and Jane Keyes Collection on the website of the University of Washington. The collection contains slides, photographs and fieldnots of Charles’ research in Thailand and Laos.

Below are a some of pictures they took in Shan and Karen communities and in the town of Mae Sariang itself.

People at a gathering
Ordination: Procession of the "jewel child" at Wat Ommarawat, Amphoe Mae Sariang, Changwat Mae Hong Son, Thailand, May 1968. Picture by Charles Keyes.
Ordination: Procession of the “jewel child”, on way to shrine of village spirit, Ban Khapuang, Amphoe Mae Sariang, Changwat Mae Hong Son, Thailand, March 1968. Picture by Charles Keyes.
procession with children on shoulders of men
Ordination: Procession of the jewel child at Wat Ommarawat using human mounts, Amphoe Mae Sariang, Changwat Mae Hong Son, Thailand, May 1968. Picture by Charles Keyes.

POY SANG LONG – Initiation Ceremony of Northern Thailand

Here is a fantastic video from Sid Perou. It is footage of Poy Sang Long at Tham Lot and Cave Lodge, Mae Hong Son province.