Poy Sang Long Festival

The Poy Sang Long tradition, also known as the Novice Ordination, holds great significance in Shan culture and has been a cherished practice for many generations. This tradition is rooted in the belief that participating in the ordination as a novice or monk in Buddhism brings about substantial merit. The Poy Sang Long tradition has been observed for hundreds of years, tracing its origins back to the migration of the Shan people into the region. This important tradition is typically held during the months of March and April, which coincide with school vacations and offer a break from agricultural work. The timing ensures that families and communities can devote their full attention to the preparation and execution of the event. The Poy Sang Long tradition is a complex and elaborate affair that involves meticulous planning and various stages. It takes about a month to prepare for the event, and it requires a considerable amount of resources and expertise. People with knowledge in different aspects, such as rituals, customs, and event coordination, come together to ensure the success of the tradition. Given the intricate nature of the tradition, it is not only a spiritual event but also a cultural and social occasion that brings the community together. The ordination process itself is a significant step in a young person’s life, marking their commitment to a life of Buddhist practice and discipline.

The meticulous preparation and coordination involved in the Poy Sang Long tradition showcase the deep respect and commitment of the Shan community towards this significant cultural and spiritual event. The process of organizing the tradition involves multiple steps, each contributing to the successful execution of the ceremony. Once an agreement is reached to arrange the Poy Sang Long tradition, the hosts come together for a discussion and consultation meeting. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and understands their roles and responsibilities. Various aspects are considered, including the alms, ceremonial instruments like drums and fanfare machines, and the individuals who will play different roles during the event. Preparations also extend to people who will carry out specific functions during the tradition. This includes those responsible for preparing the monks’ meals, as well as those who will participate in the ceremony itself. The mentors of Sang Long, known as Tapae Sang Long, play a crucial role. They are tasked with caring for Sang Long’s needs, such as bathing, dressing, feeding, and ensuring his security throughout the event. Typically, each Sang Long is supported by 2-4 mentors. The next step involves presenting Sang Long to the abbot. This is done by Sang Long’s parents, and it signifies the formal initiation of the training process. The abbot takes on the responsibility of training Sang Long and guiding them through the practice of memorizing the ordination blessing. This training typically takes place over a period of 7-10 days leading up to the actual commencement of the ceremony.

The final days leading up to the Poy Sang Long ceremony are filled with intense preparations and festive activities, showcasing the dedication and enthusiasm of the community to create a memorable and meaningful event. Starting around 3-4 days before the ceremony, a collective effort takes place as many people come together to assist with various tasks at the hosts’ house. These preparations involve creating a welcoming atmosphere for guests, which includes arranging a variety of welcome foods and desserts. Skilled individuals collaborate to decorate the alms and the eight necessities required for a Buddhist monk, as well as other items that will be used in the procession. Special attention is given to decorating Teekum or Sang Long’s umbrella with vibrant and multi-colored garlands. The entire venue of Poi Sang Long is meticulously arranged to exude beauty and create an enchanting ambiance. As the preparations unfold, there is a sense of camaraderie and togetherness among the participants. The hosts provide food to share with the guests, fostering a sense of unity and hospitality. As night falls, the surroundings are transformed with dazzling lights, accompanied by the lively sounds of drumming and the Klong Mong Sueng (Shan’s drum), which adds a joyous and celebratory element to the atmosphere. The day before the ceremony marks the culmination of the preparations. Everything is meticulously arranged and ready for the main event. The parents of Sang Long play a pivotal role as they bring their son to the temple. There, Sang Long’s hair is shaved, and a ceremonial shower is conducted using water infused with symbolic elements such as gold, silver, sompoi, and turmeric to bestow auspiciousness. After the cleansing ritual, Sang Long is adorned in white attire, signifying purity and readiness for the upcoming ordination.

The first day of the Poy Sang Long ceremony is marked by a series of intricate and meaningful rituals that celebrate Sang Long’s transformation into a novice monk. The attention to detail in Sang Long’s attire and ornaments, as well as the procession and blessings, reflects the deep cultural and spiritual significance of the event. The day begins before dawn, with Sang Long’s parents and relatives bathing him and then taking him to the temple for dressing. Sang Long’s attire resembles that of a Shan prince, with specific elements that hold symbolic meaning. He wears white pants and a vest, along with a loincloth and a gold or silver belt. An embroidered shirt with floral patterns complements the outfit. Sang Long’s appearance is adorned with unique ornaments, such as round ribbons on his shoulders and a Kabkaw ornament on his neck, which is a circular gold-plated piece with intricate designs and flowers. The ceremony involves seeking precepts and blessings from the monks, signifying Sang Long’s commitment to the monastic path. Sang Long’s procession is a joyous affair, accompanied by music and dancing. Mentors carry Sang Long on their necks, while another opens an umbrella for him. The procession includes musical instruments like drums, cymbals, gongs, and cup-shaped cymbals, creating a festive atmosphere. Popped rice and flowers are scattered along the way as a sign of celebration. The procession visits various temples to seek forgiveness and blessings from the monks. Sang Long’s journey includes stops at the village shrine and the homes of relatives and respected individuals. At each house, hosts tie a thread on Sang Long’s wrist to welcome him, and he blesses them in return. As the day progresses, Sang Long takes rest at the hosts’ house, where people gather to participate in merit-making activities. The Kong Mong Sueng drumming alternates with Hed Gwam, or Shan singing, creating a soothing and serene atmosphere. These practices offer a sense of tranquility and contemplation, allowing participants to connect with the spiritual essence of the event.

The second day of the Poy Sang Long ceremony is marked by a grand and vibrant event known as the “parade of alms” or “Koluu” in Shan. This procession is a spectacular display of Shan culture, tradition, and community spirit. People from various backgrounds come together, dressed in colorful and elaborately decorated Shan-style attire, to participate in this awe-inspiring spectacle. The Koluu parade during the Poy Sang Long tradition is often considered the pinnacle of parades in the region. It is renowned for its sheer scale and beauty, drawing the largest number of participants compared to any other tradition in Mae Hong Son. The procession showcases the diversity and richness of Shan culture through the variety of colors and intricate designs present in the participants’ clothing. The vibrant and lively atmosphere created by the parade reflects the deep sense of pride, unity, and celebration within the community. As the parade winds through the streets, onlookers are treated to a visual feast of colors, patterns, and traditional clothing, all contributing to the festive ambiance. The Koluu parade is a testament to the Shan people’s commitment to preserving and showcasing their cultural heritage, and it serves as an opportunity for both locals and visitors to appreciate the beauty and depth of this unique tradition.

The Alms figure parade during the Poy Sang Long ceremony is a multifaceted and symbolic display that involves various sections, each carrying its own meaning and significance. This procession represents the offerings and offerings to Lord Buddha, as well as the preparations and elements required for the ordination of Sang Long.

Geeja: The Geeja, a resonant metal bronze gong, assumes a central position at the forefront of the procession, gracefully borne by a pair of attendants. With deliberate and measured movements, these individuals rhythmically strike the Geeja, producing a deliberate cadence that resonates through the air. This ritualistic act is underpinned by a profound belief that the Geeja serves as a symbolic pronouncement of merit, not only offered to celestial beings but also as a proclamation that reverberates throughout the community, invoking a sense of collective awareness and spiritual engagement.

Ub: Ub is a resplendent offering container crafted with intricate artistry from silver lacquer, adorned with gilded accents and embellished with ornate glass decorations, resembling a miniature casket. This splendid receptacle is exclusively dedicated to venerating Lord Buddha, housing an array of sacred items meticulously arranged for the offering. Contained within the Ub are a harmonious assembly of offerings symbolizing reverence and devotion. The fragrance of fresh flowers, the aromatic allure of incense, the gentle glow of candles, the sweetness of delectable treats, and the delicate beauty of flower cones all come together in this sacred vessel. During the ritual, two attendants reverently carry the Ub, gracefully approaching the altar of Lord Buddha to offer this precious tribute. With each step, their movements reflect profound respect and devotion, carrying the collective prayers and adoration of the community.

Ruler’s horse: The Ruler’s horse holds a distinct role within the Poy Sang Long tradition, embodying grace and significance. This exceptional horse is meticulously selected for its captivating elegance and gentle temperament. Adorned with regal finery, its back is adorned with a resplendent carpet adorned with an array of vibrant flowers and ornamental embellishments, reflecting the splendor of the occasion. Prior to its participation in the procession, the Ruler’s horse is an essential component of a ceremonial invitation. It is brought to the village shrine or town shrine, where it symbolically extends an invitation to the ruler to partake in the festivities. This act is imbued with the profound intention of invoking auspiciousness, while ushering in an abundance of joy, tranquility, and blessings into the sacred Poy Sang Long tradition.

Tapesa tree: The Tapesa tree holds a captivating resemblance to a majestic castle, boasting a bamboo framework enveloped in delicate mulberry paper. This intricate structure is adorned with meticulously crafted paper embellishments, featuring an array of vibrant hues and intricate patterns. Resting gracefully upon a square foundation, it is elevated by two sturdy bamboo beams, facilitating its carriage. The creation of the Tapesa tree is a testament to both artistry and devotion. Designed with precision and care, it is intended as a heartfelt offering to Lord Buddha. This resplendent structure stands as a focal point, a shining beacon within the Alms procession, radiating reverence and splendor.

Napesa Tree: The Napesa tree, akin to the Tapesa tree, shares a resemblance with a stately castle, with its bamboo framework enveloped by delicate mulberry paper. However, the distinctive feature that sets the Napesa tree apart lies in its decorations. In contrast to the Tapesa tree, the Napesa tree’s adornments are exclusively fashioned from temple artifacts and utensils. A striking assembly of temple essentials, including plates, bowls, trays, pots, spoons, and glasses, bedeck the Napesa tree. Each item, symbolizing elements of devotion and ritual, is meticulously arranged to create an exquisite tableau. This unique form of decoration conveys a profound reverence for the temple and the spiritual significance it embodies.

Poog Kao Tawg: Poog Kao Tawg, a significant element of the Alms procession, encompasses a delightful offering of popped rice encased in delicate mulberry paper. This exquisite creation is further adorned with triangular flags, known as Jaag Ja in the Shan language, which are meticulously tied with vibrant bamboo branches sporting a rich array of colors. The number of bamboo branches utilized in the Poog Kao Tawg creation is directly influenced by the count of Sang Long participants partaking in the procession. The thoughtful arrangement of these bamboo branches adds a sense of harmony and unity to the overall presentation.

Ten Nguen Ten Kum: Ten Nguen Ten Kum represents a poignant and symbolic offering within the Sang Long tradition. Consisting of candles and incense, this heartfelt tribute is presented by each Sang Long participant to the preceptor. The quantity of Ten Nguen Ten Kum items precisely matches the number of Sang Long participants, further emphasizing the unity and harmony of the occasion.

Silver and Gold Bushes: Silver and Gold bushes hold a unique and captivating role within the Sang Long tradition, serving as both offerings to Lord Buddha and as ornate decorations that enhance the grandeur of the procession. These bushes are meticulously crafted from silver and gold paper, harmoniously combined to create an exquisite visual spectacle. As the Sang Long participants partake in the ceremony, they present these Silver and Gold bushes to Lord Buddha as a gesture of deep reverence and devotion. This act symbolizes their earnest commitment to the spiritual path and their desire to seek blessings and guidance from Lord Buddha. Furthermore, the Silver and Gold bushes contribute to the visual splendor of the procession, adding a touch of elegance and radiance to the entire event. Their intricate design and shimmering hues mirror the collective spirit of celebration and reverence that characterizes the Sang Long tradition.

U-Tong Pan Tong: U-Tong Pan Tong holds a special place in the Sang Long tradition, representing a significant element of worship and devotion. This offering consists of both a betel cone and a cone adorned with flowers, serving as important tools for Sang Long’s spiritual practice. The betel cone is a representation of the betel leaf, areca nut, and other traditional ingredients used in betel chewing, which holds cultural and ceremonial significance in many Southeast Asian communities. The act of offering the betel cone is a gesture of devotion, symbolizing Sang Long’s respect and commitment to their spiritual journey. The cone adorned with flowers adds a touch of beauty and elegance to the offering. The flowers symbolize purity, reverence, and the fragility of life. As Sang Long present this cone, they express their heartfelt devotion and seek blessings for their spiritual path.

Maw Num Ta: Maw Num Ta is a meaningful and auspicious offering in the Alms procession, symbolizing blessings and good fortune. This offering consists of a clay pot, carefully wrapped in white cloth, and sealed with nine different types of leaves, each carrying its own significance of auspiciousness. The nine types of leaves, each chosen for their auspicious meanings, carry blessings of prosperity, longevity, happiness, and spiritual growth. They are carefully selected to invoke positive energies and well-wishes for the community and the Sang Long.

The Eight Necessities of a Buddhist Monk: The eight necessities of a Buddhist monk encompass essential items required for the practice and daily life of a novice monk. These necessities are traditionally carried and offered by both men and women, signifying a collective effort to support the monastic community. The eight necessities consist of the Yellow Robe, the monk’s Alms Bowl, bedding, umbrella, and Girdle Cord.

The musical accompaniment for the Poy Sang Long ceremony plays a significant role in creating a festive and celebratory atmosphere during the procession. The Mong Sueng drum, a distinctive instrument, is a central component of the musical ensemble. This drum is intricately designed, with multiple gongs attached to a bamboo beam, and is carried by men who play it rhythmically as part of the parade. As the Sang Long parade approaches the end of the procession, it becomes a visually captivating and joyful spectacle. Sang Long, along with his mentors and the person responsible for opening the umbrella, are all adorned in special and beautiful attire. As they move through the parade, dancing to the rhythm of the long bottom drum adds an element of enjoyment and excitement to the event. The lively dance moves sync with the beat of the drum, infusing energy and enthusiasm into the entire procession. At the conclusion of the parade, a rocket procession takes place. This symbolic act involves launching rockets into the sky, creating a dazzling display of light and sound. The rocket procession is a significant moment that signifies the celebration and auspiciousness of the Poy Sang Long tradition, marking the culmination of the event. The combination of music, dance, and the rocket procession enhances the overall experience of the Poy Sang Long ceremony, bringing together elements of cultural tradition, spirituality, and celebration. The various components of the procession, including the Sang Long parade, musical instruments, and the rocket display, contribute to the vibrant and memorable nature of the ceremony, leaving a lasting impression on participants and observers alike.

The Sang Long procession during the Poy Sang Long ceremony is a significant and symbolic journey that encompasses various meaningful rituals and acts of celebration. The procession follows a specific route, passing through important roads before culminating at the temple. As the Sang Long procession advances along its route, elderly men and women participate by showering popped rice and flowers upon the attendees who have gathered to witness the parade. This act of scattering popped rice and flowers is a gesture of goodwill, blessings, and well-wishing toward those who have come to join the procession, creating a sense of unity and community spirit. Upon reaching the temple, the parade completes its journey, but the ceremony is not yet over. The procession circumambulates the temple three times, symbolizing devotion, respect, and an auspicious connection to the sacred site. Following the circumambulation, the alms collected during the parade are presented in front of the Buddha as offerings. This act holds deep spiritual significance, representing the devotion and merit-making of the participants. The celebratory aspect of the ceremony continues with a shared meal. The hosts provide food for those who attended the procession, fostering a sense of togetherness and gratitude among the community members and participants. In the evening, a banquet ceremony is held in honor of Sang Long. This serves as a special occasion to celebrate and honor the young novice, marking an important milestone in his spiritual journey. Towards the end of the second day’s events, there is a touching and meaningful tradition of consoling Sang Long. The elders tie a thread around Sang Long’s wrist, symbolizing their support, guidance, and blessings for his path ahead. This act of consoling Sang Long is then extended to include all relatives, parents, and guests who gradually come forward to participate. This symbolic gesture marks the conclusion of the second day’s ceremony, creating a sense of unity, mutual support, and the sharing of positive energy among all those present.

The third day of the Poy Sang Long ceremony marks a pivotal moment in Sang Long’s spiritual journey, as he is formally ordained as a novice monk. The day is characterized by a series of sacred and meaningful rituals, each contributing to the significance of the ordination process. The day begins with Sang Long being taken to the temple, where attendees gather to witness the ordination. The community comes together, reflecting their support and involvement in Sang Long’s transition to monkhood. During the morning, a Dharma book called “Thomleeg” is read aloud in the Shan language. This reading serves as an opportunity for all those present to listen and reflect on the teachings of Buddhism, fostering a deeper understanding of the spiritual path. As lunchtime approaches, the invited monks are offered food, following the traditional practice of alms-giving. After the monks’ meal, it is time for Sang Long and the guests to partake in their own meals, creating a sense of shared sustenance and unity. The ordination ceremony commences with Sang Long seated before the monks. He requests a yellow robe, which symbolizes his commitment to the monastic path. The change of attire signifies the transition from layperson to novice monk, marking a significant step in Sang Long’s spiritual journey. After the change of attire, Sang Long seeks the commandments from the monks, a process that involves requesting guidance and accepting the responsibilities of monastic life. The older Buddhist monks offer a sermon, providing advice and suggestions for the novice’s spiritual practice. The ordination process includes a sermon that imparts teachings and wisdom, further enriching Sang Long’s understanding of his new role and responsibilities. The conclusion of the ordination ceremony involves the hosts offering alms, the Tapesa tree, and the monks’ congratulations. This signifies the completion of the Poy Sang Long tradition, and it marks a moment of deep significance and culmination.

Poy Sang Long Festival
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