Connecting People Through Goodwill and Friendship

Pitee Wai Khru: The Thai Teacher Appreciation Ceremony

Wai Khru ceremony for traditional musicians and dancers. (cr. National Theatre)


In Thailand, a teacher traditionally holds one of the most respected roles in society. He or she is commonly assumed to be a transmitter of knowledge, passing on that knowledge with love, tolerance, and only good intentions. Pitee Wai Khru, an annual ceremony that amplifies a global conception of Teacher’s Day, is one of the biggest celebrations in the Thai education system. Often, when one thinks of Pitee Wai Khru – literally “a ceremony to wai the teacher,” one thinks of students seated on the floor, bending reverently while their hands come together in a wai – much deeper and more performative than for a “Sawasdee” greeting – in order that they may express their respect to the teacher and receive the latter’s blessings.


King Mongkut the Great (Rama IV), who reigned from 1851 to 1868, described the significance of teachers in the development of a student’s life in his poem, loosely translated as follows, to capture its essence of appreciation:


With all ten fingers pressed on their foreheads, students of the Pitee Wai Khru (Teacher Appreciation Ceremony) express their gratitude towards their teachers – gratitude, whether big or small. Teachers – whether instructors of mathematics, literature, music, theatrical arts, martial arts, weaponry, masonry, or arts and craft – all carry the honorable intent of instructing us students, so that we may be wiser and accomplished. Like a bright beacon of light, they guide us through the waves of a dark sea. The teacher is there to pull students through, never once giving into their own exhaustion. Good students are a source of satisfaction. Irreverent students, on the other hand, become a source of woe. Good students will reach their potential and receive praise, while irreverent students will cause shame and dishonor. The greatest treasure we can get from teachers is the knowledge that they carry, which no one should take for granted. We owe our respect to teachers, whatever may arise.


The scope and depth of a teacher’s work, as the poem describes, harks back to the roots of the Thai word khru, meaning “teacher.” The term carries connotations of seriousness and heaviness, connotations that date from its Pali and Sanskrit roots. However, to understand the role that teachers play in Thai culture, it is important to understand not only what is behind the word “khru,” but also the culture of respect generally expected within Thai society. In Thai social and cultural hierarchy, teachers – not surprisingly – are viewed with a higher standing than students. They are therefore expected to be shown respect, and to be treated with honor.


Besides this, the Thai education system also has roots in Buddhism, thus imbuing the goal of education with many Buddhism-defined virtues as well. Buddhism has shaped expectations of both teachers and students – how they teach and how they learn.



Buddhism and Early Thai Education

Before there were schools as we know them today, temples were the main institutions of education in Thailand. Monks and priests took on the roles of teachers, instructing students academically as well as morally. Parents deciding to enroll their child in a temple with a monk would often bring flowers and candles on a platter, on which there was a set of betel nuts to offer to the monk. This practice showed the family’s respect and the parents’ eagerness to place their child under the care of the monk and, more generally, under the guidance of the temple.


 Wai Khru ceremony at a public school (cr. CMI4)


Education is nowadays still seen as a journey of completing oneself to become “a good person,” which is generally defined as a self-reliant person on whom family members and society can also depend. Many of the definitions of “a good person” are also based on Buddhist values. In Buddhist belief, teachers are people who are genuinely caring and virtuous, and those who associate themselves closely with teachers will be blessed with prosperity and personal growth.



The Meanings and the Roles of “Khru


Before matches, Muay Thai fighters often perform a sacred dance called Wai Khru Ram Muay

to pay respect to their teachers (cr. TAT)


The word “khru” exists in varying forms in both Pali and Sanskrit and has multiple meanings, many connotating largeness, heaviness, abundance, and leadership. Thongyoi Saengsinchai, a Thai academic of letters, splits the definition of khru into three categories. In the first, khru is “an organ that can be opened up or extended” (such as a bird’s wings); in the second, khru, taking on an adjectival form, means “big, thick, abundant, wide-ranging, heavy, important”; in the third, khru, again a noun, means “teacher, instructor, advisor, someone to be respected.”


In line with these definitions, the word khru bears the meaning of someone who is respected, blessed with knowledge, and serves as a role model. As it is often seen in Thai culture, a teacher “owns” the knowledge of his or her students – students merely receive the knowledge that their teachers pass on, and they can only receive that knowledge through imitation.


However, while the role of the student is simply to respect the teachers and absorb what the latter imparts, the teachers’ role appears to be much more multi-pronged. He or she is expected to: 1) train and guide the student to become “a good person”; 2) ensure students clearly understand the lessons; 3) teach to the fullest of their abilities; 4) promote the student into their professional fields and communities; and 5) teach the student how to succeed at life, in general.


By being near a teacher, students may witness these seven virtues of Buddhism expressing themselves: piyo (the warmth from knowing a reliable source of counsel is nearby); kru (respectability that leads to a sense of safety and reliability); pawaneeyo (a sense of praise-worthiness, inspiration, and admiration); watta (a feeling of reasonableness and clarity, in an atmosphere of advice); watjanaktmol (the ability to listen and to engage in conversation and criticism with patience, without boredom or frustration); kompirom (an understanding of complex situations, forming the basis of comprehension towards even more complex subjects); noh jatutaneh niyochaye (guidance towards only the good and virtuous).



The Wai Khru Ceremony

Because teachers bare much responsibility towards the creation of “a good person,” a ceremony, known as the Pitee Wai Khru or Teacher Appreciation Ceremony – also with a connotation of reverence in the term wai – exists in order to show gratitude and respect to teachers. Since Thursdays are traditionally linked with the God of Knowledge in Thai belief, Pitee Wai Khru typically happens on a Thursday and in June, which typically coincides with what is considered auspicious months of the lunar calendar (the sixth or ninth month).


Students make offerings to teachers during the ceremony. The offerings presented are usually easy to source yet meaningful. The indispensable flowers used as offerings are Bermuda grass (yah praek) and eggplant flowers (dohk makhuea), which accompany the chanting of a verse popularized by Phraya Somdet Surentrathibodi, Former Minister of Public Instruction, who served from 1912 to 1916, and who saw in these plants and flowers the ability to flourish and multiply – a symbol of the student’s ability and knowledge, thanks to their teachers. Holding the Bermuda gras and eggplant flowers, students will chant, ¨May I be blessed with conscience, growth, and prosperity, like the bundles of Bermuda grass and eggplant flowers. May I continue to prosper from this day with education and guidance. May I fulfill my destiny as I have wished for today.¨ Other flowers, such as red ixora flowers (dohk khem) and popped rice (khao tok), are optional but commonly used to wish for blessings as well. No matter what specific flowers are used, the offerings are to signify diligence, knowledge, detail, and elegance, at the very least.



The Symbolism of Plants and Flowers in Pitee Wai Khru


Offerings for Wai Khru ceremony with Bermuda grass and red ixora flower (Cr. MThai)


Bermuda grass has long served Pitee Wai Khru as proven by ancient texts and poems, such as those from the Sukhothai Period. Writers describe the Bermuda grass as lush green and fit for holy ceremonies, since they are associated with ancient gods and goddesses. A key example is a text by Prata Prachanda, who states that Bermuda grass is the fallen hair of the great god Vishnu. In India, the grass is offered to the deity Ganesha, a highly worshipped god of the arts and sciences. Bermuda grass is highly tolerant and can withstand drought and force when stepped on. If given just a tiny bit of water, it may grow again beautifully. Traditional Thai belief holds that students should have these resilient properties of the grass. They should be strong, conscious, and ready for growth and fulfillment.


 Eggplant flowers (cr. Horticultural Society of Thailand)


Eggplant flowers have bended flower buds, which resemble a light bow, as in a gesture of respect. The seed produced from the eggplant offspring is also abundant, which resembles the number of students who will benefit and grow from education. They who have learnt from the teacher are also viewed as ready to replicate and spread knowledge in their own lifetime, as they seek to better their communities.


Popped rice (cr. Facebook)


Red ixora has sharp petals, symbolizing the ability to be sharp and intelligent.

Popped rice – which are made after the shedding of rice capsules – symbolizes continued growth and development.



The Importance of Reverence and Loyalty

As hinted in the above sections, the “irreverent student” is somewhat of a categorical worry in traditional Thai culture. In a poem called Amity by Kru Thep, also known as Chaophraya Thammasakmontri, the poet laments that though there will be students who are reverent towards their teachers, there will also be irreverent students, leading to a relationship that was futile for the students’ education. He writes:


The amicability between the teacher and the student is one meant to be,
a form of normality;
a student should worship his teacher and treat him with the utmost care;
the teacher bestows knowledge, profession, and guidance;

the duty of a teacher is to make the world prosperous;
the mutualistic relationship is naturally blessed with benefits,
but a teacher may not know that he is defamed by his student.
Such a circumstance is unfortunate foolishness,
What would eventually become an unprosperous affair!


The Pitee Wai Khru is therefore of great importance for Thais to reinforce the sacred relationship between the teacher and the student. The tradition has been passed through generations to train students to respect their mentors and practice loyalty. Many Thais still believe that: khru means a teacher burdened by infinitesimal responsibility; that students must respect the teacher, who blesses them with knowledge and prosperity; that students must be as loyal to teachers as they can be; and that Pitee Wai Khru is a sacred and holy affair, fostering gratitude for one’s accomplishments and prosperity.



Patthong, Supanee, Assoc.Prof, “Kru Kap Sit Wai Khru.” Watthanatham Journal:Department of Cultural Promotion, yr. 54, no. 4, October – December. 2015, pp. 50 – 57. Retrieved April 1, 2021. Link: