12600 Monks, One Street - Chiang Mai
A sea of orange pouring through the streets. 12600 monks, in their exceptionally bright robes like 12600 burning candles.
The occasion was the alms giving ceremony in Chiang Mai, with the public urged to bring donations of canned & non-perishable food. This year, the donations would be turned over to the victims of the disastrous flooding that has recently taken place in Thailand and made news headlines around the world.
On an early morning last month, I woke up to witness the ceremony.
Arriving at 6am, the streets were already busy. Monks were coming in from all angles, delivered by bus, minibus, and songthaew, which is a kind of shared taxi in the back of a truck. A Thai woman shows respect to them as they pass by.
Prayers began nearly an hour later, with words of support given by many government and community officials including Thailand's Prime Minister.
An hour later, the sides of Chang Klan Road are bursting with people. The road, covered by a striped white and red covering, is lined with locals preparing their offerings, and army volunteers in green to collect the donations. A 'money tree' with donations and garland sets the stage.
As the wave of monks began to flow down the street, music is played and people show their gratitude.
Rows of glowing robes fill the street, walking hundreds of meters from one end to the other before collecting the alms.
All of the monks, young and old, from the area surrounding Chiang Mai participated in this special event.
One of the main visual cues for a monk, the bowl which here is used for collecting alms (food and money for the needy).
Neo, a local Thai man from Chiang Mai, told me about the importance of the ceremony to him. With him, he brought grocery bags of noodles, rice, and this flower to offer. He kindly asked me to take part in the ceremony with him, and offered me a bag of goods to offer to the monks.
The monks hold out their bowls to accept the offerings.
As their bowls fill, they empty them into the bags held open by the military & volunteers to collect and haul away for the flood victims. Sometimes just as they entered the bowl, they were being taken out. For me this was quite interesting. Kind of like a monk "middleman" for the goods to get to the flood victims, though I understand that for the religious and societal reasons this is how it works. These are their traditions.
Few monks showed any emotion. Even on a day with over twelve thousand, it was still only a handful. As the event winded down however, an ease came over and some smiles were to be found.
The volunteers loaded thousands of clear plastic bags filled with food and toiletries onto huge trucks and vans. There was a feeling of togetherness. Everyone was doing something to help, and you could see the joy on their faces.
By 9am, about 3 hours from the start, the street was back to normal, as if nothing had happened. The fabric that had covered the street was folded up and taken away. Traffic was back in full force. The monks were on their way home waiting for their rides.