These photos are from the Boon Kathin (บุญกฐิน) festival for Wat Pa Ming Muang on the south side of Khon Kaen city on November 26-28, 2018. (Note that, despite the name, this is a regular maha-nigay temple, not a thammayut forest temple.) Thanks to Paw Sawai and Mae Nuwiang, who organized this event, Luang Ta Tawee Rattanabunyo for answering my many Kathin questions, and everyone else for being so welcoming. For more information, there’s an explanation of Boon Kathin and an overview of heet sip-song, the twelve Isan merit-making traditions.
Two Days Before Kathin
This is a day of preparation. While the formal Kathin ceremony happens in the temple, all activities before it take place along the road in front of it. Headquarters is a big tent and the cooking is done in a makeshift kitchen at a shop house across the road.
The tent’s decorations were both hand-made and hand-grown – fruits and vegetables, brought by various people, were hung with plastic string throughout the tent alongside banners, streamers, and the like.
This being Thailand, a big portion of the day’s work was preparing food. Lunch was served to all volunteers and about one thousand pieces of khao tom mat (a snack made of sticky rice, black beans, and banana cooked inside a banana leaf) were made. These were given to anyone dropping off donations. The money raised over the three days went toward construction of a thirty-nine meter-tall Buddha statue.
Most of the volunteers went home after lunch, though some cooking and decorating continued throughout the afternoon. At the end of the day, there was dance practice for the procession to the temple on Kathin day.
The Day Before Kathin
The team making food for the monks and the volunteers began work at 4am. As part of the symbolic separation between the Kathin activities and the temple, monks were invited from a different temple to come make merit (the usual chanting and gruat nam ceremony, where people give merit for their ancestors by pouring holy water onto the ground) at the tent and give a sermon. Though due to some other commitment, the monks had to cut their visit short and cancel the sermon.
Around 3pm, as the weather began to cool, a small, loud parade looped around the neighborhood to formally announce that the Kathin ceremony would happen at the temple the next morning (though, of course, most people already knew) and to collect donations for the temple. Half the people walked up front carrying banners and brooms (symbolically, and occasionally literally, clearing and cleaning the way) while the others lagged in back, collecting cash from people living along the route and dancing to the live music from the truck full of speakers bringing up the rear.
That evening, someone wanting to support the Kathin celebration, put on a free concert next to the tent. It wasn’t toned down for the occasion, it was just as loud and lively as a regular “sa-dring” concert with a mix of pop and luk thung (Thai country) songs.
After another early morning start (3am) for the cooks, monks from Wat Pa Ming Muang came to take their morning meal at the tent and perform the same merit making and blessing rites that were done the day before.
When breakfast was over, the robes, money, and other items were taken to Wat Pa Ming Muang in a grand procession that was just as festive (the music truck was a part of this one too) and only a bit more formal than the parade the day before. Upon arrival everyone circled the meeting hall three times before going inside. A lot of coins and candies were thrown to the crowds both inside and out.
The ceremony for the donation of the robes began with chanting and inviting the guardian gods of the four directions to come bear witness; the latter is not normally done in Isan. Though the formalities were led by the regional head monk for the tambon (township), who is the abbot at nearby Wat That Kut Kwang, he was not the center of attention. Before Kathin day the monks from the temple got together to choose three monks who were most deserving of getting the new robes, plus other useful things like umbrellas and sandals. The head of these three chosen monks must be highly respected because the donors for Boon Kathin believe that if he does anything wrong in the coming months they will lose the merit they made organizing the event.
With the ceremony over, people were invited to take home the fruit that had hung at the tent and other small gifts such as banners and pillows.