“Suad mon kham pee” – Thailand’s Unique New Year’s Eve Celebration
Benefits of Midnight Buddhist Chanting on New Year’s Eve (In Thai: สวดมนตข์า้มปี "Suadmonkhampee")
Thailand, like most other countries in the twenty-first century, celebrates New Year’s Eve according to the widely adopted Gregorian calendar—that is, on December 31. Firework spectacles, much like in other countries, light up the night sky at iconic locations such as the Temple of Dawn (pictured below). However, in Thailand, local customs of chanting Buddhist sermons at temples are also held across the country, adding a Thai twist to New Year’s Eve celebrations.
(Photo credit: https://binged.it/3p54GWV).
Across Thailand, many of 41,205 temples host an event called “Midnight Chanting,” (Thai: สวดมนต์ข้ามปี Suad mon kham pee) which takes place through midnight from New Year’s Eve to New Year’s Day. Although asking the Buddha for an auspicious life or good health has become common practice in recent times, prayers traditionally did not ask the Buddha to free them from sins. Instead, they recited sermons as a practice to train the mind according to the tenets of Buddhism.
(Photo credit: https://bit.ly/3GYOQUY)
The Cambridge Dictionary defines “chant” as “singing a religious prayer or song to a simple tune” or “to repeat or sing a word or phrase continuously”. However, the word “prayer” in the context of Buddhism takes a slight deviation, subsuming itself under the Pali term ‘paritta’, which means protection or safeguard. The Buddhist paritta chant is recitation of Buddha’s sermons, which mainly encourage Buddhists to radiate good wishes or loving-kindness (Pali: Metta) toward others, allowing them to set the intention of a better life for the next year. As aforementioned, chanting should not be an act of asking the Buddha for his direct blessing, guidance, or protection.
It is only recently that the Midnight Chanting events started to appear in Thailand. Many Thai Buddhists had been organizing secular, alcohol-fueled New Year’s Eve’s parties. Only some went to temples on New Year’s Day to make offerings to monks. Wishing to change this for the better, in 2005 a senior monk named Somdet Phra Putthajarn Kiew Ouppaseno, abbot of Bangkok’s Saket Ratchavaramahavihara Temple (pictured below) started a program of Dhamma talks and chanting at this well-known temple to celebrate New Year’s Eve in the hopes of drawing the attention of mainly male Buddhists away from parties and vice on New Year’s Eve. The initiative has since become a tradition and spread to temples across the country, where Midnight Chanting can now be seen in a variety of settings, both indoors and outdoors.
(Photo credit: MThai)
How is the Ceremony Conducted?
Midnight Chanting is usually, but not always, performed using a “sacred thread” (Thai: สายสญิ จน์ “Sai sin”) along with an image of the Buddha and a bowl of sacred water (Thai: น้ํามนตร์ “Nam mon”). The thread is tied to the Buddha’s image at one end, then hung from the ceiling and attached onto the heads of worshippers, who are seated on mats on the ground, while its other end is twisted around the bowl of sacred water. While reciting scriptures, the monks hold the thread to maintain an unbroken line of communication from the water to the Buddha’s image.
(Photo credit: https://bit.ly/3p9rZPz)
When the recital is over on New Year’s Day, the sacred water is sprinkled onto the worshippers—some even drink a little of it and sprinkle it on their heads. The thread is then divided into pieces and distributed to be tied and kept around their wrists or necks as symbols of the protective power of the paritta.
(Photo credit: https://siamrath.co.th/n/198349)
For over an hour, the monks chant sermons from the Mangala[i], Ratana[ii], and Karaniya-metta[iii] suttas, totalling more than 20 discourses. More on these discourses can be discovered in the endnotes.
“Happy New Year 2022” to you – readers – and all of your loved ones.
I would also like to conclude with the Buddha’s advice for the New Year 2022, “One should do what is good, accumulating what is useful for the future…”.
An outdoor New Year’s Eve celebration at a temple, where worshippers are reciting Buddhist
incantations (photo credit: https://bit.ly/3108BMS)
Major e-book references:
- The Book of Protection by Venerable Piyadassi Thera at https://bit.ly/2ZVHYrH
- Buddhadhamma: The Laws of Nature and Their Benefits to Life by Bhikkhu P.A. Payutto and translated into English by Robin Moore at file:///C:/Users/paito/Downloads/Buddhadhamma.pdf
[i] In Mangala Sutta—the Greatest Blessing (listen here)—the Buddha summarizes 38 good deeds or blessings that a man needs in order to be happy and materially and spiritually successful. They are, for example, to stay away from fools and associate with the wise, to honor those who are worthy of honor, to set oneself in the right course, to learn, to have discipline, to say only the good, to support one’s parents, to cherish one’s wife and children, to engage in harmless occupations, to be generous, to be righteous in conduct, to help one’s relatives, to abstain from evil, to refrain from intoxicants, to be steadfast in virtue, to be respectful, humble, content, and grateful, to listen to the Dhamma on due occasions, to be patient and obedient, to associate with monks and to have religious discussions on due occasions, to have self-restraint, to have a holy and chaste life.
[ii] In Ratana Sutta—the Jewel Discourse (listen here)—the Buddha speaks about the efficacy of the paritta recital by virtue of truth, loving-kindness, and happiness.
[iii] In Karaniya-metta sutta—The Discourse on Loving Kindness (listen here)—the Buddha summarized what one must do to make progress on the Path. He taught, for example, that one should always be happy, have a calm and a cool mind, have few material possessions, treat everyone the same (regardless of race, color, etc.), not deceive others, treat everyone like close relatives, not wish others harm, and be free of suffering. He also advised people to practice meditation on loving-kindness (Metta bhavana), which has scientifically proven benefits such as sleeping well, waking happily, having no bad dreams, being dear to human beings, increased empathy, and the ability to process emotions.
Author: Paitoon Songkaeo, Ph.D.