The Poy Sang Long is a three-day celebration of Buddhist novice ordination which usually takes place in late March or early April of every year in the Thailand’s most north-western province of Mae Hong Sorn.
The festival is the custom and tradition of the Shans or Tai Yai an ethnic Thai tribe who migrated from northern Burma and then inhabited most of Mae Hong Sorn. The Tai Yais have a strong devotion to Buddhism, and to follow their age-old tradition the young boys between the age of 7 and 14 will be ordained as novices for a period to learn the Buddhist doctrinces and to gain merit for their parents. It is believed that the tradition is probably to follow in the footsteps of Prince Rahula, the first Buddhist novice who was the Buddha’s own son. The young prince gave up his worldly life to follow his father’s spiritual teachings.
The festival is rich in colour and display making it a most exciting event that draws residents of the entire province to take part. Prior to the arrival of the three-day festival, the boys have their heads shaved and are then bathed and anointed with special waters. They are dressed up in jewelled finery and their faces are expertly made up. These boys are known as the “Jewel Princes” or “Look Kaew” in Thai.
In the early morning of the first day, the celebration begins with a procession around the town. Accompanying the procession are flutes, lutes, fiddles, drums and cymbals. In the procession, each boy is accompanied by three attendants ; one to carry him, another to shelter him from the sun with a tall gold umbrella, and the third to guard the precious jewels. The Boys are led to visit relatives and friends and then join the communion lunch. After the feast, relatives and the elders tie white threads around the wrists of the boys to protect them from evil spirits. Thus ends the first day of the event.
On the second day, the same procession again takes place. This time, the procession includes offerings for the Buddha, other necessities for monks and a horse symbolising the vehicle of the spirit of the city pillar. In the evening, after having dinner, there is the rite of calling “spirit” or “Kwan” in Thai and a verbal recitation to prepare the boys for the actual ordination in the following day.
The last day begins with the procession of the boys to the temple for ordination. At the temple, the boys ask permission to be ordained from the senior monks. Once accepted, the boys then take vows, change the princely attires to yellow robes and become full novices. The greatest event then ends here.
The Poy Sang Long Festival attracts a large number of Thai tourists and has now become popular among foreign tourists as well.