Walking into the Wat Thai Temple in North Hollywood, I was surrounded by color, music and smell of delicious Thai food.
Soon enough I found myself surrounded by colorful people who wanted to share their story. As they set up chairs I set up my camera to capture their beauty and explore what Thai dance and culture meant to them.
“Sunday Thai Dancing School”
Nina is one of many who takes classes at Wat Thai Temple. All ages are invited to learn,
and there is not designated dances for mature vs. young dancers. One man told me, however, that there are different styles of movement for men. Men learn to move showing their muscle, “more strong, not smooth like lady”. He told me later that he danced with 2 swords. One sword for protection and one for attacking, to “confuse your enemy”. Most teachers are female, which is probably why women can do both male and female parts.
Assuming that learning dance in a temple would involve ritual or spiritual storytelling, I asked about a pre or post-dance ritual. They told me that there is a pre-dance ritual before a “saltdance” and that you bow before the Fawn Lep (fingernail dance) which is frequently used at ceremonies such as weddings, housewarming and holidays. The weekend previous, Mam told me there is a chant or prayer that can be uttered to ask for blessings for the performance. I’m looking forward to witnessing and recording some of these simple or elaborate customs.
Although Thailand used to designate Songkran (New Year’s) on a full moon, Nina told me that New Year’s Eve is now celebrated every year on April 13th. Also called the Water Festival, Songkran is a time to clean and purify your mind and to pay respect to your elders. Narat told me that it is a time to ask for forgiveness for the aggressive actions or thoughts from the year before that “you don’t even know about.” We watched as the monks in colorful orange were seated and hundreds lined up to receive blessing. The Miss Songkran contestants were among the first to lower themselves before each seated monk or elder, pour water onto their hands and receive the gentle sprinkle or cleansing splash.
I was invited to participate in the “Rod Nam Dum Hua Ceremony” and was given a metallic bowl and gathered water for the exchange. First I was instructed to pour water on the shoulder of a Buddha. As I humbled myself in front of monks who spend much of their life in prayer and spiritual inquiry, I felt a real connection to the divine. I also felt a longing, a yearning for blessings. Then I questioned, “Who am I to ask for a blessing, there are hundreds who have already asked, shouldn’t I move along?” It’s amazing how ritual can take you out of the ordinary and become a platform for transformation through self- awareness. The water then became a reflection, both of the beauty of the event and of our human thirst for cleansing and purification.
To pass on the many blessings I received by the Thai community last month, I sincerely wish you “Sawadee Pi Mai” (Happy New Year).