A Very Special Annual Event
The Poy Sang Long Festival
The Shans, ancestrally known as Thai Yai, are close cousins of the Thai people, which is not surprising as country boundaries were extremely fluid in former times. The festival of Poy Sang Long is essentially Thai Yai (as are the words in proper Thai it is called Buad Loog Gaew) and means "ordaining the beloved sons". The Thai Yai, like their full-Thai cousins, are devout Buddhists who annually present young sons (ages ranging from 7 - 14 years) to be ordained as novices. The boys, and their parents, earn merit from this act of devotion while the boys also learn the tenets of Buddhist teaching and the self-discipline required of a monk. This year 73 boys will attend the short courses of teaching and practice of Buddhism philosoply from around the middle of March until 3rd April.
Also, throughout the neighboring towns, whether it be the towns of Mae Sariang, Mae Lanoy, Khun Yuam or the provincial city of Mae Hong Sorn, young boys will participate in the traditional ceremonials which are bright with color and Thai Yai culture. Not only are the boy"s proud parents and relatives involved in the excitement but visitors flock from other parts of Thailand to see and photograph the spectacle.
April 4-6 is the time of the 3-day festival of Poy Sang Long when, in the city of Chiangmai, pre-teen boys are inducted into the Buddhist novicehood. On April 4, the first day of the 3-day festival, the young participants are the focus of family feasting and gift giving before the boys are escorted to the temple to have their eyebrows and heads shaved and be ritually cleansed and anointed by bathing in sacred lustral water. 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.
On the second day, April 5, now shorn of his head of fine black hair, 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. A horse is usually featured in this parade as it symbolizes the vehicle on which rides the community Inthakin Pillar (fertility totem). Around 09.00 hrs., the parade will flow slowly from Thapae Gate through the road up to Chiangmai Gate, Manee Nopparat Road, and arrive at Wat Pa Pao. During the evening, prayers for guidance and blessings from the "spirits" will be intoned and recitations, reminding the boys of the following day"s full ordination, will be said. Celebration will also take place that includes musical performance of dancing, singing, and merriment..
Early morning of the final day (April 6), the day of ordination, each boy will be transformed into a "Jewelled Prince" ("Loog Gaew" in Thai). His face will have a cosmetic makeover with powder, rouge and lipstick and then he will be dressed in glistening, sequined finery of every hue. On his head will be the white turban halloed with fresh flower blossoms. Today, the boy is carried aloft on his own personal throne to the temple, surrounded by his family and well wishers with his ears ringing from the strident clash of Shan music. Although he is only a young boy, he will handle the parade with all the panache, aloofness and dignity of a "Jewelled Prince". It is magical to see this young figure, composed in expression but bright with colour and glitter, as he progresses to the temple.
Once inside the temple, each boy will ask the Abbott for permission to be ordained. With permission granted, the boy will take vows and then divest himself of his colourful finery in exchange for the humble saffron robes of a Buddhist novice. And here, in the temple, the boy novice will remain for at least one month. During this time he will follow the routines of temple life, learning from and watching his elders as he absorbs the essential foundations for a responsible and rewarding adulthood.
Not only 73 Loog Gaew will go through the ceremony of Poy Sang Long but also the ceremony of Jaang Long will take place. This is a ceremony for a mature novice of 20 years old who went through Poy Sang Long in the past and has chosen to be ordained as a monk today.