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Poy Lern Sib - Ed Festival
in Mae Hong Sorn

Mae Hong Son, home of the annual Poy Lern Sib-Ed Festival"MAE hONG sORN, in the northwest pocket of Thailand, is becoming an increasingly popular city for touring, trekking, and venturing out into a very scenic area of the North. It is still relatively untouched, and you could say it is still remote," from the authority on the area Khun Wisoot Buachoom, Director of the Center for Mae Hong Son Tourism Coordination promoting tourism in Mae Hong Son and the Pai Tourism Club. Forming the northwestern border between Thailand and Shan State under Myanmar (Burma), this province offers the visitor much more than one could ever imagine. The life center of the province is the city of Mae Hong Sorn -- small, quaint and serenely comfortable.


Located on a level stretch on a mountainside, the shops and restaurants on the main road of the city are a pleasure to visit. In most of the shops, you'll find an array of inexpensive but very nice items unique to the area and the shop attendants will wait for your decision to ask about items and prices, as opposed to following you around on your heels. This politeness is one of the outstanding features of a visitor's enjoyable stay in the town.

In addition to the people themselves, you can see the Shan and Burmese influence in the Buddhist temples -- one of which is more than 150 years old. You can also see some temples which are obviously intentional combinations of the Thai version of Buddhism and the Burmese version, and there is a difference. Burmese Buddhism has always been more strongly influenced by the original form of Buddhism as it was developed in Northern India. Whereas Theravada Buddhism in most of Thailand arrived via Ceylon (i.e. Sri Lanka), the Buddhism practised by the Thai Yai people of Burma and of Mae Hong Sorn came directly from India via Assam. The people of Mae Hong Sorn brought this with them to Thailand and they are very strongly Buddhist, which may account for their conservatism.

The season of Khow Paansa is a time when monks and laymen alike renew their commitment to follow the precepts of Buddhism. For the following three months of the rainy season the monks will remain in the temple, intensifying their study and meditation. Laymen participate in the festival by making food offerings and also by presenting especially prepared candles, sometimes gigantic and elaborately carved in Buddhist themes, which are carried to the wat in a grand procession.

Scenes from the Poy Lern Sib-Ed festival

Meanwhile, Awk Paansa Day marks the end of both Lent and the rainy retreat. Held on the first day of the waning moon in the 11th lunar month is equivalent to the full moon date of 27th October 2007. On this day the people make special merit by offering food to the monks, and some older people listen to special sermons preached by the monks at the temple. It is believed once during his lifetime the Lord Buddha's spirit retreated to heaven for the rainy season, and there he preached a sermon to his mother who died seven days after giving birth to Lord Buddha (then Prince Siddharatha) and was born again in the heaven. The sermon given was said to last for the entire period of the Rains Retreat (3 months). On the last day of the retreat Lord Buddha's spirit came down to Earth, when the people presented food to him and his disciples.

The City of Mae Hong Sorn holds one of the most colorful and lively celebrations to be seen in Thailand. It's called the Poy Lern Sib - Ed Festival and commemorates the event in Buddhist Cosmology. The Thai Yai people of Mae Hong Sorn appear to believe that every year at the end of Buddhist Lent, the Buddha will return to earth again to be among humans.

This is a tremendously important festival in the City of Mae Hong Sorn and if you're planning to be there this month from October 22 to November 3, you'll have a chance to see probably the most colorful Buddhist celebration anywhere in the country. It's a very special event for the Thai Yai people, for they see it as a day to welcome the Lord Buddha back to earth. Also, in Mae Sariang district, southern area of the province, there would be similar festival --"Awk Wah Festival" holds from October 24 to 27.One belief of Buddhist myth is that when the Buddha returns to be with living creatures, both human beings and animals, all have a unique occasion to rejoice. This festival is extremely religious, but at the same time it has a strong mythological flavor. But above all, it is joyous and colorful.

According to the myth of its origin, it is said that after his Enlightenment, the Buddha spent six years traveling to propagate Buddhism in then, Bharat (the present-day India) from the city of Rajagaha to Varanasi, Avatthi, and Kapilvatthu which is his birthplace, respectively. Having established his parents, wife, son and relatives in the high virtues in accordance with individual capability, he thought of his mother who passed away seven days after he was born. Thinking of repaying an obligation to his mother, the Buddha realized that such debt would be repaid only by preaching the Abhidamma (Buddhist Metaphysics) to his mother. He therefore ascended to the Tavatimsa heaven and spent the seventh lenten retreat there teaching the Abhidamma Pitaka to her.

Having completed his lent retreat in the Tavatimsa heaven, on the first waning moon of the 11th lunar month the Buddha descended to the human world at the city of Sankassa, where a large congregation of people came to see and give alms to him. Owing to the aforesaid reason, Buddhists have regarded this occasion as an auspicious day and have preferred to do and extra alms-giving, or devo-rohana.The term devo-rohana literally means the descending from heaven or divine world. It is an important event for the Buddhists to commemorate the day on which the Lord Buddha defended from the Tavatlmsa heaven afar having observed the lent retreat there, and the alms - giving or "taak-baat" is the act of putting the rice into the monks' alms-bowls. Thus, the "taak-baat devo-rohana" is the ceremony of giving alms to the community of monks on the occasion the Buddha had once descended from the celestial world to the human world on the first waning moon of the 11th lunar month after having spent his 7th lent retreat in the Tavatimsa heaven.

Map of Mae Hong Son cityOne of the main activities is Jong Para Procession. Jong Para in Thai Yai dialect means a castle or mansion made of wood which is covered with colorful perforated paper and decorated with fruits, flowers and lights. According to custom, Jong Para is placed in the courtyard of a house or temple as a gesture to welcome the Lord Buddha.

Prior to the day of the full moon, the Thai Yai people buy things to offer to the Buddhist monks of Mae Hong Sorn and ready themselves for the special day, Taak - Baat Devo - rohana. On the morning of the day of the full moon, the people rise before dawn and make their way to the temples to make offerings to the monks (this is known as making-merit in Buddhist thought) at Wat Pra Thart Doi Gong Mu. After making their offerings, the remainder of the day is spent in visiting friends and relatives, asking forgiveness for any wrongdoing they have done in the previous year, and in a great deal of traditional merriment.

There is folk entertainment, an important part of which illustrates the stories of the Buddha's past lives. Children walk around in groups singing traditional Thai Yai songs. Special dances are performed to depict the distinctive animals that have somehow come to be deeply connected with the return of the Lord Buddha. These dances and performances center on the mythical half - human / half - bird "Gingala", the Butterfly "Gumber", the Lion "Toh", and the Serpent "Naga".

A few days of adventure in this very scenic area of the North will be worth your while. It is still relatively untouched, and a world away from the hussle of big cities.

Mae Hong Son Tourism Coordination Center, Khunlumprapad Road, Tel. 053-612982 or 053-612983.

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