Wanting to see more of Thailand than the typical iconic Buddhist temples crowded with tourists, I made a special request of our guide, Lucky 8. This day was to be spent out in the Thai countryside where there would be neither tourists nor admission tickets. It was by coincidence that we happened upon a Buddhist funeral in Lucky’s home village. Yes, this entire blog will be about attending a Buddhist funeral in rural Thailand.
Cremation of a Buddhist in Thailand
The Kitchen Prep
Lucky convinced me it would be okay to attend the funeral of a monk in his home village and take photos. The funeral was spotted while we were driving by, due to the large number of cars at the Buddhist temple and the time of day. Of course I felt very uneasy carrying my big camera around and clicking photos, but Lucky continued to assure me that all was okay. Other people in attendance and even some monks were taking photos. Everyone seemed very friendly toward me. Of course there was a total language barrier, so most of the communication was much gesturing and bowing.
After taking a few photos of many women preparing a huge feast, this lady walked after me, tapped me from behind, wanting to show me her finished product and get her photo taken. There was obviously going to be a huge feast after the ceremony.
Some women who were making desserts walked over and gave me some sweets. Somehow, I did not seem to be viewed as an unwelcome outsider. For that I was grateful and felt slightly more at ease.
Chanting and the Procession
All the while there is very audible Buddhist chanting going on in the background. Eventually I made my way through the outdoor kitchen area and saw the monks chanting. A chair was quickly provided for me to sit and listen to the rhythmic chanting, which seemed to be endless.
CLICK the link below to listen to the chanting. This went on for over an hour. The environment did not lend itself to me asking Lucky all I wished to know about what was being said in the chants or other questions. It was all a kind of sensory overload.
Here is my first view of the casket which was placed on a large wagon. The photo of the gentleman who passed away was in a wheelbarrow-like device made for this purpose.
Eventually the chanting ended and a long procession began. I did not know we were walking to the cremation site. The monks led the way and the procession of mourners followed, pulling the wagon with ropes. Due to the height of the canopy on the wagon, someone with a long wooden pole ran ahead to push and lift the electrical wires out of the way.
Due to the turns in the road along the route, this gentleman steered the wagon. Notice there is also a foot brake available.
I had no idea how far we had to walk, but in this heat I hoped it was not very far. The procession wound its way through farm fields.
At about this point it became apparent they were going to have the cremation during this ceremony. The casket is removed from the wagon and placed on a very large pile of wood logs. The logs were donated by the families within the community.
Not until weeks later while preparing this post did I notice one photo had a monk taking a picture with his iPhone of the deceased. So it seems my camera was likely not a problem at all.
An offering plate was passed around. I gladly donated, especially after they so graciously allowed me into their community.
Chanting was ongoing during this entire time, then the fireworks started. There were several men who were in charge of the fireworks display. Periodically they would walk over and set off a few aerial fireworks prior to the big show. Then the fireworks marched along overhead lines to the casket. The fire eventually burned the ties keeping this poster rolled up and it unfurled, seemingly indicating the end to the ceremony.
At this point I was simultaneously filming the video with my iPhone and taking photos with my Sony in the other hand. That is the reason the video unfortunately veers off at the most important time when the fireworks unfurled the banner or scroll. Notice it is rolled up at one point of the video and then when I get back on image, it had unrolled.
Upon returning home, I showed the above scroll sign to a local Thai restaurant cook to learn what it says. I was expecting some wise Buddhist advice. It simply says, “Thank you for coming to the funeral. Have a safe trip home.”
This gentleman and a few others were in charge of the fire. The plastic jug in his hand is likely full of kerosene which he periodically poured over the logs to get the fire roaring.
The colorful bag at the base of the casket is full of the clothes of the deceased. His spirit is being sent above and apparently his clothes are being sent as well.
My desire to stay at the funeral longer than planned messed up the scheduling of the rest of the day. However, it seemed like such a once-in-a-lifetime event for me that I wanted to see it to the end. Or at least near the end. The cremation would not be finished until well into the next day.
Time for Lunch
We finally made it to the local restaurant. This is not a place where any tourists ever end up. I cannot even tell you the name of the place. You will never see this restaurant on Yelp or TripAdvisor. It was at a residence, not a commercial establishment. Here is the menu.
I do not know exactly what dishes we ate at this outdoor restaurant, only that it was very good food, unique and spicy as well. My guide, Lucky, is in red. We picked up a friend of his along the way and later visited his house as well.
The very gracious owner and chief at her restaurant.
This was one of the more unique and certainly the most unexpected experiences of the entire trip. It is doubtful anyone ever lists attending a Buddhist funeral on their so-called bucket list. That is the problem with such lists… they limit you to that which you are already familiar. Simply getting out and exploring can be the most rewarding experience. I hope to return one day and meet up with Lucky once again. If you are going to Chiang Mai, Thailand, contact me so I can put you in touch with this dedicated guide.
Next we get to bathe some elephants.