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the WILDEST day of my life : Wai Khru 2015

travel + culture

on the road and what's out there.


the WILDEST day of my life : Wai Khru 2015

Caitlin Surakitbanharn

March is already on the downslope towards April.  yikes!  Bangkok is heating up like you wouldn't believe (the high today is 99 and the worst is yet to come!) - summer heat is on and there's little relief in sight.  one thing i love about Bangkok's pretty wild.  when you go out, you never really know what the city has in store for you that night... you never know how it'll end.  and i've lived here long enough that i'm rarely shocked but always amused by the continuous BOLD MOVES that Bangkok-ians make as they move through life.  i'm not really shocked anymore when i see scooters cruising down the wrong side of the road, or see someone on a bicycle make a 4 lane cross through traffic.

however.  this past weekend, i attended my sak yant master's wai khru.   and i was truly blown away and it was the WILDEST DAY of my life.

nothing could have prepared me for the journey i was about to embark upon as Jao and I wound our way through a back soi in On Nut on our way to attend Ajarn Thoy's wai khru.  NOTHING.

so let me preface this outrageous story with a few upfront details and facts.

1.  what is a wai khru?  as you remember, i received a sak yant tattoo from Ajarn Thoy a few months ago.  every year in March, the sak yant masters hold a ceremony where you return to your master and pay your respects to him.  the ceremony is called a wai khru - in Thai, "wai" roughly translates to "to respect" or "to pray to" but it literally translates into the "Thai" action of putting your hands in prayer position when you greet someone or pray. "khru" means teacher.  so the wai khru is to respect to or pray to your teacher.

2.  Thai Buddhism is a "total field of beliefs" religion, and this means that the Buddhist practice here encompasses elements from Hinduism and Chinese beliefs also - so spirit and/or deity worship is very very common.

3.  Ruesi is a hermit sage that is known for spending all their time meditating and developing magic powers and magical spells.  in sak yant, the masters are considered a kind of Ruesi.  Ajarn Thoy in particular is a special kind of Ruesi, a Dabos.  A Dabos Ruesi will have a special Ruesi mask, and prays to Por Gae Dta Fai.  Por Gae is considered the "master khru" or the master teacher - like the teacher of the teacher.    Dabos Ruesi also wear dark orange (almost rust color) or tiger print robes.

OK - like all that info doesn't sound INTENSE ENOUGH.  those are all little tidbits of info you need to understand that crazy that is about to unfold in front of your eyes.

the most important thing i want to say though is - I am not saying or writing any of this in a way that is derogatory towards Ajarn Thoy, the process, the religion, or the people there.  i don't think anyone was faking anything, i believe everything that went on was for real, and i truly believe in the power of what was going on.  you might think i'm nuts, but i BELIEVE in the magic spell placed on my tattoo and i believe in my sak yant master.  i have nothing but the utmost deep respect and love for Ajarn Thoy and what he does.  this is all just simply a recount of the day and how it blew my mind :-)

All right - so we get there around noon.  it was supposed to start at noon, but in true Thai fashion, it was running about 2 hours behind schedule.  so it's about 96 degrees out, and we're all waiting outside.  about 200 people milling around... huddling under the tent for some shady relief.  and also being BOMBARDED by the loudest music possible from enormous speakers and a hilarious Emcee giving us a random running commentary of the day to give us some entertainment while we waited.  it was nice though.  they had fresh cold water and curry and noodle salad for everyone.

see me standing in the back guys it's hot and someone in front of me is smoking and I NEED A BREAK FROM THIS LOUD MUSIC.

OK so then it was showtime.  Ajarn Thoy came out to the large ...Buddha/Ruesi organization that you pray to (i don't know what it's called).  he lit incense, he prayed.  he went back inside.  i was confused. it starting? is it not starting?  what is he doing?  (there is no "What to Do for your First Wai Khru" manuel, sadly!)

THEN.  there was a lot of commotion and a large group of the hardcore dudes that were there (the dudes that are inked to high heavens, full back covered...) they all started moving up to the front.  again.  i was confused.  then there was all kinds of commotion around the door in Ajarn Thoy's hut.  THEN I REALIZED.  Ajarn Thoy was inside and he'd called on the Por Gae and had become POSSESSED by the Por Gae spirit.

Ajarn Thoy Dabos

and the Ruesi Por Gae spirit is depicted as like...kind of an old man situation.  so all the commotion... it was all of Ajarn Thoy's disciples helping him walk outside, as he was now possessed by the Por Gae and couldn't walk normally.  

OK - SO...he came out, and he was chanting and hissing, etc.  and throwing holy water on everyone.  but what happened next is what i wasn't ready for.

next - i heard someone start yelling.  then i hear another person yelling.  and then i realize alllll those dudes that went up to the front...they're ALL YELLING.  and convulsing.  and screaming.  and rolling around on the floor.  it was like a mosh pit up there.  my mind flashed back to a quick little article i read about how at the wai khru, some of the devoted followers experience a kind of trance.  and then i understood.  they were experiencing "possession" by the animal spirits of the animal tattoos they have on their bodies.  

so we have Ajarn Thoy being inhabited by Por Gae, and then....we have the mosh pit of dudes being possessed by animal spirits.  YOU GUYS IT WAS SO WILD.  

so this went on for like 12 full minutes.  Jao and I were BLOWN AWAY. we weren't expecting anything like this and both of us were just... floored.  and we both really enjoyed the dudes that experienced this animal possession but they weren't up front..they were like off to the side. and all their friends were looking at them like "dude next year, you have to go up to the front with the rest of the MOSH PIT."

OK so the next part - everyone gets to individually see Ajarn Thoy and have their sak yant tattoo re-blessed.  so ah...another long wait.  the possession portion of the day ended around 1:45.  we were number 137, so we had to wait wait wait.  FINALLY our number was called around 4 pm.  and we entered the little shack where a few months ago i received my first sak yant.  but again, time to have our minds blown!

apparently, when Ajarn Thoy would re-bless some of the more hardcore dudes that experienced the animal trance earlier...they would again go into this trance.  so you'd just hear random yelling and screaming and growling....and you'd see things like this...

while i was waiting my turn - the next part was receiving my yant khru.  so while Ajarn Thoy was inhabited by the Por Gae, the Por Gae gave him a "symbol" or a "yant."  and this yant was then written down by Ajarn Thoy.   and this small yant was to then become the yant khru (sacred marking of the teacher) for the wai khru 2015.  so some of Ajarn Thoy's students of sak yant were there to give his disciples (me) the yant khru tattoo.  you didn't have to receive it, but you know me....i was in.

Ajarn Mat giving me my yant khru while Jao and Marc (a friend met at Ajarn Thoy's last time)

close up!  it's covered in oil and is a little red and swollen but it'll heal up very nicely :-)

after you are all set, you wait in line again, and then finally its your turn.  so Ajarn Thoy is still in his higher conscious state of being inhabited with the Por Gae spirit at this point - and he's still wearing the mask.  so the way this works is... you give an offering of A PIG'S HEAD..and then you put on another Ruesi mask, and he holds it, and he blesses you.  and this portion of the day is what signifies you as one of his disciples.  So this process, pictured below, is the ritual where i become Ajarn Thoy's disciple.  proudly :-)  he drops a blessed amulet of the Ruesi into your hand, and you're off.

however, some dudes have sak yants that are meant to protect them by way of protecting them from objects like bullets or swords, etc.  so for some of those guys - Ajarn Thoy would bust out a sword!  and then he would use it to "slit" their throats, and "cut" their backs (it isn't a sharp sword) in order to show the power of his yant and also to allow the disciple to show that they trust him and his magic and allow him to put a sword to their throats.  THOSE WERE THE MOST WILD.

the SWORD.  so gangster.

and that was...that was that.  the day was complete.  we left around 6 pm...the process from getting my number called until the end was about 2 hours.... and we were exhausted.  a long day of animal spirit possession, heat, waiting, and for me...another small tattoo!  unexpected!  the pain!

Ajarn Thoy's wai khru was DEFINITELY the wildest day of my life- i'd seen nothing like it!  as my mom was a like a backwoods seance scene from an episode of True Blood!  but nonethless, i'm REALLY glad we went - it was really amazing.  it was a great experience and i'm looking forward to next year's wai khru!  

oh and i uhh...i may or may not also be looking forward to a new sak yant over the next few months..... ;-)  i kind of can't wait to put myself back on that little stool infant of Ajarn Thoy and feel the pain and the magic that goes with it!  

**all photos are either mine or taken from Ajarn Thoy's Facebook - no copyright or anything nefarious meant at all - just telling the story!!!