Thailand is currently celebrating the 60th birthday of their beloved Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, the third child of the King. The 60th birthday is considered auspicious as it is the fifth cycle birthday which is the most important for Thai people because it “celebrates the accomplishments of one’s life.”* And being the Princess means that this entire year has been dedicated to that celebration!
James found that they were having a celebration for her in Chiang Mai so we scooted down to the Flower Garden to watch the ceremony and fireworks! The Princess is so well-loved by her people that it’s spilled over to me! These last two years I’ve been impressed to learn about her development projects, her proficiency in numerous foreign languages, her photography skills and avid traveling. That we actually got to see her in person (albeit at a distance) for a brief moment has solidified my fondness for her too. I’ve even seen two photo exhibitions of hers and the last one created a desire to go to Nagaland (her photos pulled me in!).
In Thailand, each day of the week has an associated color so we arrived to the Ratchaphruek Flower Gardens, as one of the few not decked out in purple. The color is associated with the Princess as she was born on Saturday (which is purple.) Purple flags were out and all attendants were dressed in purple. Even with our fashion non-compliance we were admitted into the park and headed to the base of the temple where the ceremony would be held. A long row of chairs could be seen in the distance as well as a large photo of the Princess. We were asked to sign in and then given a candle and sheet of paper with Thai writing.
We took a seat eyeing our sheet of paper and the Thai woman behind us asked if we could read it. We sounded out a few words, botching the pronunciations, and confirmed ‘no’, although James told her we were taking classes. We would later find out that it was lyrics for what I imagine is a song honoring the Princess, although I never clarified.
An hour after the event officially started, Thai dancers took the stage, performing in traditional attire their graceful moves. They were accompanied by a band of musicians playing traditional instruments on a low platform.
I initially didn’t take a photo of the dancers but when the next set of much younger dancers took the stage I moved closer. They were so adorable as they performed a similar dance.
A few sets of dancers later and then the phase of honoring the Princess began. Large egg-shaped offerings were brought before her image from members of the community. Each would bow before the photo and then place the object on the long tables to either side. In Thai, a woman announced who was making the offering, for which there were many.
With the offerings complete, the candles were lit through the crowd and about half of the crowd moved closer to the stage and the Princess’ image. The woman behind us said we could go to the stage too but when James clarified if she was going and she said no, we decided to stay behind too.
By candle-light, songs were played and then the crowd sang the song for the Princess, holding their candle before them. It was a quiet, pretty sound and a unique experience. With our candles still lit, the fireworks began and it became a juggling act to keep my candle lit in the light wind and take photos with the other hand, which I did with mild success, and a few drips of hot wax on my skin. The fireworks were a beautiful show and I loved how they illuminated the temple.
The event culminated with well-wishes chanted by the crowd for the Princess, which we did our best to repeat. I imagine it was “Long Live the Princess!” and I certainly hope that is the case.
Other images from the night –
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