The Poy Sang Long Festival in Chiang Mai

The Poy Sang Long Festival takes place each year between March 20 and mid-April in many temples in North Thailand. It is actually more a ceremony than a festival.  In Chiang Mai there are two temples where this ceremony takes place. The festival is essentially Shan or Tai Yai and means “ordaining the beloved sons”. Young boys from 7 to 14 years old go to the temple to be ordained as novices. 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 period of time that can vary from a week to many months or more.  Usually, a large group of boys are ordained at the same time.

 

Novices at the Poy Sang Long Festival Wat Ku Tao
Poy Sang Long Festival Wat Ku Tao

Poy Sang Long is a very colourful and interesting ceremony. For the duration of the event the temple grounds are bustling with activity during daytime and in the evening. Family and friends of the boys are there as well as many visitors. There are food stalls and there is music and entertainment. They boys are carried around the temple 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 4 or 5 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 to have their eyebrows and heads shaved and be ritually cleansed and anointed by bathing in sacred lustral water. They are dressed up as princes. The parade to the temple is accompanied by the shrill of flutes, the beat of drums and the clash of cymbals as local musicians give their support and respect to the boys.  In 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 the precious jewels.

Smiling novice Poy Sang Long Wat Ku Tao
Wat Ku Tao Poy Sang Long

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 he will parade to the temple, with his dancing and drumming entourage, 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 the procession of the boys to the temple for ordination. At the temple, the boys ask permission to be ordained from the senior monks. Once accepted, the boys then take vows, change the princely attires to yellow robes and become full novices.

In Chiang Mai there are two temples where the Poy Sang Long Festival takes place: Wat Ku Tao and Wat Pa Pao. Wat Ku Tao usually has more than 50 boys involved. The event at Wat Pa Pao is usually smaller. The parade on the last day is really worth seeing.

Monks shaving the head of novices at Poy Sang Long at Wat Ku Tao
Shaving Poy Sang Long at Wat Ku Tao