| religion bangkok temple |
PREVIOUS SPREAD: a mass ordination of 34,000 monks in Wat Phra Dhammakaya in Bangkok; LEFT: prospective monks hold lotus leaves during a mass meditation ceremony in central Bangkok; ABOVE: lay-people meditate in a ceremony in central Bangkok; BELOW FAR LEFT: female relatives of ordainees hold offerings designed to bring the men luck in the ordination; BELOW LEFT: prospective monks pray while holding their new robes
he sun reached its zenith hours ago and now its slow descent brings much-needed respite from the searing heat. The concrete space in which I’m standing is vast: hundreds of metres across and surrounded by constructions that wouldn’t look out of place in an airport terminal. In the centre of this manmade cavern stands the grand stupa, a huge golden dome made up of hundreds of thousands of small gold Buddha statues. This is the religious heart of Bangkok’s Wat Phra Dhammakaya.
Then, like ants swarming from their nest, men clad in orange robes begin to pour from the surrounding buildings, filing quietly into the open area in a seemingly endless stream. Directed by temple assistants shouting instructions into megaphones, they move to their allocated places. They keep coming until more than 34,000 monks fill the previously empty space, a becalmed sea of orange that covers every square metre, surrounded by a beach made up of another 20,000 white-clad laypeople.
An announcement bursts forth from the huge speakers that hang from the ceiling, informing us that this mass ordination is to be broadcast live around the world via the temple’s own 24-hour satellite-television network. And then, the room is enveloped in an eerie silence.
After a few moments, the hush is broken by a monotonous chant as the head monk leads the initiates in prayer. As particular words are spoken, all 34,000 simultaneously bow down in a single fluid motion, an awe-inspiring wave flowing across the orange ocean. This process continues for several hours until the ceremony is complete, and the 34,000 initiates have become monks.
february 2011 www.geographical.co.uk 53