Long Live Chiangmai:
The Ceremonies of Tamboon
Muang & Sueb Shata Muang
The Oldest, continually inhabited city of Thailand is Chiangmai but, to many people, the city theoretically "died" centuries ago. Since its foundation, in 1261, Chiangmai was at the heart of the old Lanna Kingdom. Over the years, it became well established and grew prosperous to the degree that it was coveted by its enemies. In 1558, Chiangmai fell to the invading Burmese who continued to control the city until 1775. In the hearts of the Lanna people, their beloved Chiangmai was "dead" because it was no longer theirs.
Thanks to assistance form the Siamese Kingdom of Ayutthaya, the Burmese were eventually pushed out of Chiangmai and King Mengrai's lovely "Rose of the North" was given new life. The citizens of Chiangmai have not forgotten the rebirth of their city so, to this day, offer prayers and thanks for the continued, renewed long life for this ancient city. The ceremonies are called Tamboon Muang and Sueb Shata Muang. The former means "Bless the City with Happiness" and the latter "Continue the Life of the City" and the ceremonies are held around final week of May.
The Tamboon Muang ceremony is held, simultaneously, at the city's most important, old landmarks namely, at each of the six city gates (Pratu) and at the four comers (Jaeng) of the fortified moat. Each site will host nine Buddhist monks who will place themselves to the left of a Buddha image. Citizens, at each venue, will provide other symbolic items and will be under the leadership of an "Ajarn Muang" a devout, knowledgeable and respected lay Buddhist.
He will guide the people through the ceremony with the proper responses to the monk's chanting (always in the ancient Pali language), see that the holy water bowl or container and sacred cord (Sai Sin) are correctly placed, arrange the lines of pennants, sand chedis (castles) and the "Y" shaped pole supports for the branches of a Bhodi (sacred) tree. The Sai Sin (sacred white cord) will be draped around the entire landmark site and will keep out evil spirits while protecting all within.
The Sueb Shata Muang "City Life Prolonging" ceremony will run concurrently with that of the Tamboon Muang. The Northern Thai believe that their city of Chiangmai (or any city) has its own horoscope, zodiacal sign and biorhythms. Therefore, the city is regarded as having a life of its own and, hence, the "Life Prolonging Ceremony". Buddhism is the highest of Thai faiths but most Thai also believe in other, subsidiary, powers such as sacred objects and the spirits of ancestral guardians and heroes (such as the spirit of King Mengrai who founded Chiangmai).
Thus, participants in these ceremonies will also make obeyance to the highest deity, Phra Phrom, Lord of the heavens and also to minor deities compass points of North, South, East and West plus the deities of land, rivers, and mountains all of these deities are important to the City of Chiangmai so must be thanked for their goodness in the past and prayed to for continuance in the future.
At the conclusion of chanting from the Buddhist monks, each citizen will pour some clean water (which he/she has brought along) over his own, outstretched forefinger. With this symbolic water pouring goes the prayer and wish that the essence of the food, or other items, gifted to the monks will be transferred to the spirits of illustrious leaders of Chiangmai from long ago leaders like King Mengrai, King Ngarm Muang of Payao, and King Rama Kamhaeng of Sukhothai (who helped King Mengrai construct the city), Prince Gawila and others who helped make Chiangmai the place that it is. Finally the monk leader would bless the city landmarks nearby and everyone by splashing holy water from the bowl.
Visitors going to watch any of these ceremonies will not see any hoopla, or marching bands. Instead they will have a glimpse into sincere Chiangmai hearts as people give thanks for their city's return from the "dead" and pray for the continued survival of this most ancient of Thai cities. Long Live Chiangmai.