Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Pii Mai Part I

Sok Dii Pimai!

New year began yesterday, but it was incredibly hot and I'm still acclimatising, so we decided to celebrate at home with the Bushmills. Today is the 'day between days' or the 'day of no days,' between the old year ending and the new beginning. With a couple of days' cycle practice under my belt, we decided to embark on a tour of the temples. We need to see at least seven before the end of Pii Mai, as this is especially lucky.

This is the first one we visited, about a twenty minute cycle along the Mekong river. The roads here are completely flat, perfect for cycling. There was no traffic, plus a nice breeze blowing in off the river, so I was very comfortable. Even my bottom was a little less sore, having resigned itself to its situation.

At each of the temples there are large vats of water filled with flowers, and hundreds of people going between the Buddhas, wetting them. This is considered a blessing, and also a blessing if people pour water over your shoulders - which is delightful in the heat.

These are mounds of sand around newly planted (banana?) trees. Lots of little coloured flags have been planted in the mounds.

Our internet connection is a little slow, so I've had to be selective about the pictures I can upload, but I'll post a link to the full album at some point so that you can see the full extent of the coloured flags. They're very pretty.

This is a reclining Buddha in the making. Sculpted in clay, then painted red to set it before the gold detail is added.

Pii Mai is very colourful. As you cycle through town, people throw buckets of coloured water over you. Many people hire large vehicles with open backs. They sit in paddling pools to stay cool, and fill their supersoakers from it, firing water at other vehicles and pedestrians, and throwing water bombs. They also spray colour over their cars, motorcycles, and even their hair.

Hundreds of people swarm to the temples to wet the Buddhas and receive blessings from the monks.

This is the entrance to the second temple we went to.

I couldn't resist buying a bucket to fill with flower water, but I wasn't too sure what to do, so I stood watching people beside this statue of Buddha protected by Naga. Some people were flicking water with branches of scented trees, and others were throwing it on with cups, which the lady at the stall had given me two of.

A Lao lady saw me watching and came over to reassure me. She showed me how to do it. So this is the first one I wet. It's my favourite of the postures.

Once I'd done it once, I was away. There are hundreds and hundreds of Buddhas. Some are giant statues, much taller than people. Others are tiny, collected together in small shrines. You even wet the animal statues, and pretty much anything that stands still long enough.

At this temple there was a large shrine full of Buddhas. You had to paddle across the floor from all the water - and you always take your shoes off before entering a temple. It was a lot of fun.

After that, it was time to replenish our energy. There's plenty of street food, and M&R bought these delicious red sticky rice snacks, flavoured with coconut. You peel open the bark and pull out the rice. They're extremely yummy and very filling.

Something else that I learned from the lady at the second temple is that once you've blessed a Buddha, you collect the runoff in your hand and wipe it over your head and face as a blessing. By the third temple I knew exactly what I was doing.

Trees are very sacred to Buddhists, and many of the trees in temples are surrounded by Buddhas in different positions, and often wrapped in coloured cloth.

The temples themselves are beautiful and varied. Many, like this one, have paintings on them depicting teachings from the Buddha.

There are also statues of gods, divas and demons. Animism is extremely closely intertwined with Buddhism here, and people love animals. There are lots of stray animals in Laos, but mostly they look well fed. Unfortunately there were abandoned monkeys at the first temple and their cages were filled with litter. It's a big problem, as many people abandoned unwanted animals at the temples knowing the monks are obliged to look after them, but they don't always have the facilities.

Our fourth temple was Sisiket, which is the oldest temple in Laos.

In the main courtyard it looks busy and full of gold-coloured Buddhas, much like the other temples, but there's an inner sanctum which you usually have to pay to enter, but not on Pii Mai. It's much older. Apparently the temples in Laos were destroyed during an invasion by the Thai, but they left this one standing as there were members of the Thai royal family berried there.

A uniquely Lao posture, asking for rain.

And I liked this marble one as we were leaving.

As well as wetting the Buddhas, there are many other blessings you can get at the temples in return for donations. One of the most beautiful I saw was a lady and a monk sat on the ground. Between them was a tray of sand with lots of coloured flags in, like the banana trees. There was a cord wrapped around the flags and the lady's shoulders, and the monk was holding the ends of the cord, chanting blessings into it.

I opted for a bracelet. You're supposed to wish for something as they knot it around your wrist, then you keep it on for at least three days.

We cycled home, back along the Mekong (by which time my bottom was very sore again). We also cycled past this - which I got very excited about!

There's a series of detective books by Colin Cotterill which is set in Laos. The main character is Dr Siri Paiboun, who works as a coroner at this hospital. Couldn't resist taking a photo.

Tomorrow is the last day of Pii Mai, and the first day of the new year. We're planning to complete our seven temples by taking a slightly longer bike ride across town.

See Also:

Pii Mai Part II
Pii Mai Part III
Pii Mai Part IV

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