Thai spirituality and community
leaves the kingdom's citizens well-placed to cope with tragedy.
Bangkok - Three monks enter
the tsunami-damaged Cat Bar, sit on the floor and start chanting
for the living and the dead — an ancient Buddhist ritual to address
Thailand's most incomprehensible modern tragedy.
About 10 people, mainly the owner
and her staff, were seated opposite the orange-robed monks and had
prepared morning offerings of traditional foods and bottles of Fanta.
The ceremony concluded with the ear-piercing
pop-pop of firecrackers set off to help drive away evil spirits
that Buddhists believe congregate at sites of mass death like Phuket,
where hundreds were swept away by a killer tsunami.
It is an incongruous image: the monks
sitting on the floor of a streetside beer hall near Patong beach's
normally rowdy go-go bar area.
But the devastating waves which slammed
Thailand's Andaman coast have ensured that monks will be in high
demand in coming weeks and months from everything from large hotels,
restaurants or offices to convenience stores, massage parlours and
"Most businesses will bring monks
in" for such ceremonies, said Steve Shaw, an Australian who
married the Cat Bar owner's niece and now lives in Phuket.
He pointed out a cracked plastic clock
nearly two metres up a bar pillar, its hands frozen at 10.24am,
the time the raging waters from the third huge wave reached that
high on December 26.
"We actually survived this whole
thing quite well," he whispered during the chanting. There
was damage to furniture, bar equipment and appliances but the structure
"But it's important to have a
As people in southern Thailand dig
out from their worst-ever crisis, many turn to Buddhist tenets to
help honour the dead, drive away evil spirits, ensure a more prosperous
future for their businesses — and then move on.
The scene is being repeated throughout
the affected areas, according to Venerable Praputt Kantipalow, a
monk from a Bangkok temple who joined 1000 monks in last Tuesday's
merit-making ceremony in Phuket for tsunami victims.
"Depending on their chants, monks
can invite angels or heavenly creatures to bless the area and drive
away bad karma and bad spirits from the property," the monk
A sermon is often given to provide
strength and willpower to survivors, he added. The food alms earn
merit for the participants, who dedicate it to the deceased who
can then fare better in the after-life.
On Friday morning, a blessing ceremony
was taking place along the open-air beach-side promenade of Patong,
Phuket's most famous arc of sand.
Thirteen monks in brown robes, including
several young novices, joined in chants in front of nine laypersons,
three of whom were Westerners.
Monks held a long white string as
they chanted. Afterwards it would be used as spiritual protection,
to be wrapped around parts of the bungalow resort belonging to 35-year-old
As the rhythmic chanting came to an
end, Daeng and another woman walked to the edge of the promenade
and poured water onto a tree in a mourning ritual.
Three people connected to the small
hotel died in the disaster, including a masseuse and two European
Presiding monk Venerable Chanyut Chitinya
said he had felt the pain and anguish of the disaster and drove
down from northern Thailand to help.
"I saw the spirits of some people
who died, so I came to Patong," he said. "People were
hurt and they needed spiritual reflection."
Chanyut and his monks had performed
a handful of the ceremonies, and he was traveling next to the devastated
town of Khao Lak and Nam Khem village, where thousands died and
thousands more are missing and presumed dead, for more blessing
Monk Siripanyo Bhikkhu said Thai spirituality
and community leaves the kingdom's citizens well-placed to cope
"The Thai character has a nice
ability to deal with death and dying," he said. "Traditional
Thai society is helpful in terms of absorbing these kinds of things."