Hae Phra Kaeng Rue Khuen Khon Ching Thong

42003 |

title.alternative : Boat Racing, Buddha Image Procession and Boat-Racing Festival
event date.month : October
event date.lunar month : 1st day of the waning moon, 11th lunar month
location : Lang Suan district,Chumporn province
province / region
subject : calendrical rites
relations : Chak Phra
keywords : boat racing,boating,long boats, Lang Suan River
creator : Panita Sarawasee
date.issued : 11 Jan 2016
date.last updated : 1 Jul 2016

Buddha Image Procession and Boat-Racing Festival

                   The tradition of having a Buddha image procession and a long boat race is commonly observed in many southern provinces. The procession and the race take place on the first day of the waning moon in the 11th lunar month (around October), that is one day after the Ok Pansa Day, which marks the end of the annual Buddhist Lent. In Amphoe Lang Suan (Chumphon Province), the festive activity is considered an important event of the province. Its origin dated back to King Rama III’s time. Siam at that time was very prosperous. The strong economy was the reason for the construction of many important temples during the reign. The tradition of transporting major Buddha images to be put for worshipping in those temples was originated. Transporting the images in this manner was possible in the water season when rivers and waterways were brimming with water. It was also a good time because people were just freed from farming chores.

                   In years gone by, devout Lang Suan Buddhists would organize a kathin boat procession to offer alms and essential things monks would need. The destination was Wat Dan Prachakon, which was an important riverside temple in the district. The boat which carried the kathin offering had on board some monks, and so was called rua phra  (monks’ boat). The rua phra was quite a long boat. The boat to tow the rua phra along the river had to be longer and manned by more oarsmen than a normal boat that the people used. This particular boat was then known as the rua yao or long boat. The kathin boat procession to Wat Dan Prachakorn was indeed fun filled with loud music of the drums and gongs. After finishing the merit-making activities at the temple, the people would still have more fun by pairing the long boats and then having a boat race.

                   The boat procession in modern time is an entourage of rua phra from several temples, all beautifully decorated. The principal Buddha images of the temples sit in the boats placed on wheels. While the images are being paraded along the streets, prayer chanting by the monks is heard. Local folks pay respects to the Buddha and the monks, and give alms. In the procession there are also dance troupes dancing along, as well as performances of local cultural shows and games. Seen in the parade sometimes too are the royal trophies bestowed by Their Majesties the King and Queen, followed by the portraits of Phratepwongsajan. The revered monk was former abbot of Wat Khan Ngern and former Patriarch of Chumphon, who played an important role in supporting and sponsoring all the races. After the ceremonial protocols are finished, it is time for having fun which includes the unique, spectacular and famous Lang Suan boat race known as the Khuen Khon Ching Thong.         

                   The Lang Suan boat race was mentioned in the chronicles of a boat trip made by King Rama V in 1887. The boat Rua Makhuea Yum of Wat Don Chai was scheduled for the race. A ritual to bless the boat was held one day before the race took place. All other boats were taken back to the temples, or some other auspicious places, to be blessed in a ritual too. Every boat was put in a ceremonial pavilion-like structure specially erected for the occasion. Colored ribbons were tied to the prow. Candles were placed on the oarsmen’s seats. In the middle of the boat there were offerings of bai si (cooked rice topped with a boiled egg), cooked dishes, desserts, drinking water, oranges, bananas. Toward the front were placed cushions and incense sticks. The ritual conductor sat in a meditative position in front of the offerings, and recited some prayers inviting beneficient divinities to bless the boat, before the race, with victory. This ritual was performed intermittenly, alternating with the drum and gong music and firecrackers. The ritual ended with the lighting of candles and tying them to a long-handled metal fan. Everybody involved in the race then stood up and formed a queue around the boat. The fan was passed from one person to another. With their hand, they fanned the candle smoke onto the boat. The last thing was the anointing of the prow by the ritual leader.

 

Khuen Khon Ching Thong Traditional Boat Race

                   This Lang Suan boat race is uniquely different from the boat races held in other provinces. The victory is not won by the fastest boat, but with the skill and teachnique of the 2 boatmasters, one stationed at the prow and the other at the back of the boat. The one crouching on the prow must be the first to grab the victory flag at the finishing line. Therefore the one at the rear must be able to steer the boat in such a way that it whisks forward straight and steadily enough for the prowman to do his job. If the latter fails to grip firmly the victory flag and it falls into the water, or the boat sways too much and capsizes – this means defeat. The fun of the game lies in the very special skill of the prowman to snatch away the flag. In doing so, he demonstrates both his artistic and scientific techniques, which can be witnessed publicly only here in Lang Suan. The festival lasts 4 days, from the 1st until the 4th days of the 11th lunar month. Prior to the event, they organize a boat parade in the Lang Suan River. The starting point is Wat Tanod, where all types of long boats – beautifully decorated ones, creatively decorated ones, and those of funny types, gather. From Wat Tanod, the boat procession advances to Wat Dan Prachakon (where the organizing committee is stationed) and ends a the Railroad Bridge.

                   The race venue is the Lang Suan River. The race, from the Railroad Bridge to Wat Dan Prachakon, covers a distance of about 500 meters. The race boats are divided into 3 categories. In the first, the boats are manned by 32 oarsmen, in the second 24 oarsmen, and the cheerleading boat. The third category ones are the creative ones and the humorous ones. In the early days there were no prize-winning races because the boats were competing just for the sake of fun, after the merit-making activities. The winning boat was awarded with one long piece of colored cloth, which the boatmaster would tie up to the prow. After the races were over, these cloths usually were sewn up as curtains and offered to the temples. A trophy (bowl with a pedestal – a royal insignia) was first awarded in 1939. Since 1964, the awards have been replaced by royal plaques and trophies.

                   In other provinces, long boats are generally manned by 50, 40, or 30 oarsmen. But in Lang Suan it is only 32, due to the belief that an ordinary human body has 32 basic parts. The Lang Suan locals used to build their own dug boats. They would go into the forest to select the proper trees, to get the right wood. The best and most popular was the takhian (iron wood). When they found the tree, they performed a rite of worshipping the forest spirits, i.e. asking the permission from them to take out the wood. The tree must not have any blemishes. They people erected a spirit house, and asked the spirits or other spiritual beings inhabiting the tree to go somewhere else. Then they felled the tree and left it there for 1 year to dry completely. The dry wood would not shrink or become distorted. First the boat builder had to dig out the heartwood in order to reduce the weight, making it easier to pull the tree out of the forest. When the time was right, another ritual was performed, in which the female guardian spirit of the boat was invited to dwell in the new boat.

                   Sacrifices for the boat guardian comprises a pig’s head, bai si and other things. Oarsmen strongly believe in their boat guardian because the victory in a race depends on her. Colorful decorative cloth pieces are tied to the prow (khon rua). The launching of the boat into water also must await an auspicious time. The boat is checked thoroughly before it is towed to the temple, where it is properly kept and taken care of. When the big day arrives, another boat launching rite is done.

                   The khon or prow of the boat is removable and attached to the boat with a large hasp. The khon must be strong enough to bear the boatmaster’s weight. Decorating the khon is done traditionally, i.e. with satin cloths, na-ra, and bai si. The na-ra is a very long piece of cloth hanging down from the prow. Adorned with colored glass pieces, it glitters as it reflects the water surface. A consecrated bai si offering is attached to the khon. This is done by a few elderly folks. Before the race starts, the boatmaster unties and adjusts the colorful cloths to make sure they are slipproof when he climbs up right to the end of the long prow to grab the victory flag. The bai si itself is cleverly done (showing local wisdom). It is there to boost the boatmen’s morale. It also serves to protect the prowman’s abdomen against friction, otherwise it could be quite painful when he stretches his arms as far as he can to grab the flag.

                   The victory flags are unique too. Determining the true winner is done fairly, and there is no need to rely on photo finish. The first boatmaster to reach and snatch away the victory flag is clearly the winner. Two red flags are attached to both ends of a rattan rod, a very slim one known as Chumphon rattan. The rod inserted in a long bamboo stem has its 2 flags sticking out at its two ends. This so called finishing line is installed on a raft where the referees are stationed. Another indispensible person during the event is the commentator. Ajarn Kritsada Bussaban, founder of Lang Suan’s museum of local wisdom – the Lang Suan River Cultural Museum of Suan Sri Wittaya School, is the famous commentator who has been trying to pass on to his students the skill of running commentary of the race. Apart from the fun the children have, they are also reminded to be proud of their local culture and traditions. At least they can explain to other people about this time-honored tradition of their own.

 

About Lang Suan Community

                   Lang Suan is a district of Chumphon Province. This very old community once was an important agricultural and harbor town flourishing alongside the main Chumphon town. Its status was that of a subsidiary – from  the Ayutthaya time until the Rattanakosin period. During King Rama V’s reign, it was upgraded to be a fourth-grade town under the sovereignity of Bangkok. In 1896 when the bureaucratic subdivision of Chumphon (Monthon Chumphon) was established, Lang Suan became a province of the Monthon Chumphon. Present day Lang Suan is largely forest and mountain areas. Plains are found along the river and foothills. Rich soil is good for cultivation of crops such as fruit trees, oil palms and rubber trees. Rice paddies are few. The word “lang suan” could have derived from “rang suan”, or “glang suan”, which means fertile land for orchards. So doing fruit farms has been very popular since the early years. A very old orchard that is still there is a 200-year-old durian farm belonging to Uncle Ruey Ratchavet.


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