Monday, 26 August 2013

Experiencing the Morning Alms in Udon Thani


It's not every day that you find yourself about to be part of the spectacle of the 'Morning Alms' in Udon Thani, Thailand.

For the locals and monks it's a daily ritual, practised for years and a chance 'to give' without expecting anything in return.

Also known as Tak Bat, most of us would have experienced this up in Luang Prabang, Laos, however we had the opportunity to attend one 'not as frequented by tourists' after our homestay hosts insisted on it.

After receiving a quick overview on the history of this ceremony and a few 'dos' and 'don'ts' from our host Chris, we soon found ourselves standing there, slightly awkwardly, behind fold out tables, locals on either side of us, waiting in anticipation for something to happen.

That 'something' we weren't quite sure about. 

Was there going to be a beating of drums to announce the monks?

Would music summon everyone to welcome the monks?

It was nice finally being a part of something that you couldn't predict what was about to happen. 

We stood there surrounded by food. Strange coloured liquids in plastic bags, very Western looking kids juice cartons, fresh watermelon, curries and bag after bag of sticky rice, I couldn't believe the generosity of the locals as there was enough food to feed an army with leftovers. 

The mass of food was like a Buddhist Last Supper all about to happen before 7 am.

A hush amongst the crowd was the only announcement that the ceremony was beginning as everyone checked their food supplies. Like diligent students we did the same taking a moment to check that our green plastic basket containing bags of white coloured liquid hadn't mysteriously disappeared from in front of us.

The simply act of giving without receiving anything back was soon felt.

No greetings or small talk was exchanged between ourselves and each passing monk. Everyone kept solemn faces, bowing their heads as an offering was placed into a monks hands. 

One minute our basket was full, the next empty, leaving us to stand there and watch the rest of the procession.

I hadn't noticed earlier the several Utes parked up alongside the procession. It was only when I spotted the helpers unloading the contents of the now very full copper pots into the back of the Ute before handing it back to each monk to refill. The entire procession was so well orchestrated and documented as an amateur camera crew followed behind the monks.

For me, at that moment I'll admit it kind of tarnish the essence of the ceremony especially when I spotted the mobile ATMs all parked up at the end of the street to enable any quick cash donations. Everyone will have their own opinion of this ceremony but I did feel that mine was slightly tainted by seeing this side.

As the last monk received the final offering we were invited to head in the direction of the temple for breakfast with everyone. 

Again, we weren't sure what to expect so followed the crowd to find out. Most people had left after the ceremony but a few stayed around to hear the morning prayer and eat with the monks. 

Trays of food were offered to us but we politely declined not knowing if our delicate Western bellies would be able to take it. 

It was nice to sit back and feel like a fly on the wall observing what was happening around us. I think most of the local kids were doing the same but focusing most of their attention on us, checking that we were in order and acting like good tourists. 

Toodle pip x