As the Thai New Year approaches next month, Buddhist monks like Phramaha Somgid from Wat Ratchabophit, a temple near Bangkok's Grand Palace, can't be busier.
There are paths to sweep, pavilions to polish, incense to purchase and the daily rhythm of alms-seeking, prayer and sutra study to keep up.
The lead up to the New Year celebrations from April 13 to 15 also sees Thais making their way around Bangkok's more than 880 Buddhist temples, called wats, to pray for good fortune.
Especially busy are the nine so-called "magic" ones that are said to bestow unique powers to win friends, get rich, be brave and so on. The monk Somgid explains that nine is an auspicious number for Buddhists and its sound is similar to the Thai word for progress.
Devotees say it's most effective to visit all the nine wats in a single day, although even visiting only one or two can bring good fortune too.
A short taxi ride from Wat Ratchabophit to the east bank of Chao Praya River brings me to Wat Phrachetuphon Wimonmangkhalaram, or "Wat Pho" .
Thais believe that paying respects at its altar can bring happiness and the promise of a peaceful life. Many tourists go there to see the 46m gilded reclining Buddha. It is often crowded at the statue's enormous feet, which is inlaid with mother-of-pearl and bears the inscriptions of the 108 auspicious characteristics of Buddha.
Next, I made for the Wat Phra Kaeo, located in the outer west section of the nearby Grand Palace. Known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the stone statue is Thailand's most sacred Buddha image. The Thais believe that it bestows wealth and prosperity on those who worship it.
A short ferry ride across the Chao Praya from the Grand Palace is Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn. Though a much older temple, it too is said to have the power to grant prosperity.
A short time later, I find myself passing through the ornate wooden entrance doors of Wat Suthat, situated near the city's centre. I have an appointment at the altar with the "god of good vision" inside its high-roofed Burmese-style wihara or central pavilion.
I leave the wat with an enlivened sense of smell, thanks to pots of powerful vegetable curry which the resident kitchen staff have been busily stewing for a ceremonial feast that evening.
Nearest to Wat Suthat is the formidable Wat Saket, perched on top of the Golden Mountain, with its towering trumpet-like pagoda visible from almost any point in central Bangkok.
The most recent was King Rama V, who constructed the present pagoda and installed a precious relic - reputedly a piece of Buddha's collarbone - inside it.
Every day, some 2,000 sightseers struggle up the Golden Mountain to Wat Saket to catch the 360-degree panoramic view of the city from its concourse - except during the wet season in August.
Says Saket's monk-turned-caretaker Assajita Awale: "We don't allow tourists up onto the concourse during electrical storms. Even with our lightning rod installed, no amount of good fortune can protect you from a wayward thunderbolt."
Surely no one, pilgrim or tourist, would dispute that.
Friday, April 4, 2008
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