Laos White String Bracelets: The Baci Ceremony

Note the white cotton threads

When we visit the temples in Laos, we often see monks tying special white cotton strings to the wrist of a person’s right hand. Sometimes the monk ties connecting strings to whole groups of people. What are they, and what was the significance? The answer, it turns out, varies in the different regions of Laos (as well as the Sipsong Panna autonomous prefecture of the Tai Lü in the extreme south of Yunnan, China, and Northern and Isan Thai cultures) and depends on time and place….

Full moon Vientiane, Laos

The strings are tied in the Baci ceremony, and the meaning depends on the occasion. Take weddings, for instance. According to an old Laotian legend, the cotton threads are tied to ensure a happy marriage. We each have a tree in the heavenly garden, and that tree has branches intertwined with your predestined partner. When our trees come to this earthly existence, the cotton threads binding them are cut and we’re born separated and alone. If you can find your soul mate again after searching for him or her, at your marriage you are rejoined by retying the thread.

But in Laos, threads are also tied on newborn babies and their mothers [1], or on people going home or departing from home, which explained the many men, women, and children with these bracelets we saw at airports. The ceremony is performed for specific events in a life: success, health (both for the cured and the sick), and annual festivals like the sacred Wax Castle Procession in Vientiane (we witnessed a high number of Baci ceremonies during that time). [2] The ceremony is done after a death, too, to bring back any wandering, missing spirits and reinforce the harmony of the surviving family members.

The entire ceremony is rich is symbolism. The white color means purity, and the strings are believed to bind the 32 kwan, organs or parts to the soul, to prevent them from wandering away. (The Baci ceremony is also known by the term su kwan, “calling of the soul”.) [3] When kwan wander away from your body, this creates an imbalance in the soul that may lead to illness and bad luck.

Foundation stones are honored

The ceremonies take place in Buddhist temples, but kwan and the Baci ceremony predate Buddhism. [4] I’ve had strings tied to my right wrist in Buddhist and Hindu temples from Thailand to India, but have never taken part in a Baci ceremony. Regardless, the white bracelet should be worn for at least three days. Then the threads can be unknotted or allowed to fall off on their own, but should never be cut.

NOTES: [1] A Baci ceremony for new mothers and their babies is performed to welcome the baby, and to recall any kwan that may have wandered off from the mother during the birth. [2] The Wax Castle Procession falls on an especially auspicious lunar calendar date: the full moon of the seventh lunar month. [3] Concept of Kwan: Kwan are components of the soul but have a more abstract meaning than this. The kwan have been variously described by Westerners as: “vital forces, giving harmony and balance to the body, or part of it”, “the private reality of the body, inherent in the life of men and animals from the moment of their birth,” and simply as “vital breath”. – Pom Outama Khampradith, Bounheng Inversin, and Tiao Nithakhong Somsanith, writing for Lao Heritage Foundation. [4] Check out my posts about the Rocket Festival we saw on our first trip to Laos!

P.S: Baci in Italian means kisses, and it’s an awesome chocolate candy that contains a whole hazelnut at the center.

©Jadi Campbell 2018. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to  viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

To learn more about kwan and the Baci ceremony: https://www.laos-guide-999.com/baci-ceremony.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baci

http://www.laoheritagefoundation.org/ceremonies/baci.jsp

https://www.laos-guide-999.com/that-luang-festival.html

 

The Wax Castle Procession of Laos – Part 2

The That Luang Festival – Part 2

Laos’s most important religious festival opens with a parade led by monks and government officials, accompanied by musicians in ethnic costumes.

The faithful follow, carrying colorful, decorated structures (wax castles, or phasat).

The scent of honey filled the air

These are high towers built by hand to resemble castles. But such castles! These beautiful structures are covered with yellow wax flowers, especially scented with honey. Offerings of money and gold paper further decorate the towers, which are carried three times in a clockwise direction around the stupa. The procession is led by the temple’s monks, who are chanting Pali verses. Then the castles are placed on the stupa, and on the ground candles and incense are lit to ask for Buddha’s blessing.

To place castles at this event brings extra-special merit as they are an especially worthy offering. According to legend, a monkey offered the Buddha honey and was rewarded with a human incarnation. The honey in the yellow wax flowers is a symbol of this great honor.

Monks are available to receive offerings of money and place the towers (sometimes precariously!) on the stupa.

Room for a few more!

The festival brings everyone together, regardless of ethnic group or social standing. The procession shows solidarity among communities as people from all walks of life take part in the festival. Everyone dresses in their best clothes, and people from all over the country attend. Groups across Laos try to bring at least one wax castle to the stupa. The stupa itself is the country’s most important religious edifice, believed to contain a sacred relic of the Buddha.

We spent a long time on the grounds, quietly watching the comings and goings. People laugh and talk and play music as they make their offerings, but the solemnity of the procession made me sorry I didn’t have on a skirt or dress, or pay to rent a sarong for the event. Tourists are welcomed but there is nothing touristy about this sacred ritual. It was an overwhelmingly, intensely Laotian celebration. As always: I feel honored and lucky that Uwe and I were there for that full moon, and that we continue to get to witness the wonders of this precious world.

NOTES: “November 28, 2012 Wax Castle Procession” Vientiane Times, The First National English Language Newspaper

https://www.laos-guide-999.com/that-luang-festival.html

©Jadi Campbell 2018. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Nippon Visions

Ronnie’s coworker Yoshiko Sakei appeared in the next vision. Yoshiko came to the States for college and ended up marrying Erik Gross. She became an American citizen forty years ago. She’s nearing retirement, and she and Erik plan to move to Honshu. Yoshiko feels a secret guilt: she’s enjoyed the irresponsible freedom of a Japanese person living outside the home country.

Kyoto parade
Kyoto parade

Yoshiko tells Erik, “Let’s go back and care for my parents.” Erik likes the idea, because a Western man in Asia has lots of advantages. Gaigin aren’t expected to fit in.

They sell their home and plan to move as soon as Yoshiko stops working.

Miyajima
Miyajima
Kyoto train station
Kyoto train station
Kagoshima Aquarium
Kagoshima Aquarium

The vision shifts. Zen landscapes,

Bamboo forest
Bamboo forest
Zen garden
Zen garden

crowded city streets with tall buildings,

Tokyo
Tokyo

monks in yellow,

Kyoto temple
Kyoto temple

geishas in colorful kimonos,

Geishas

salarymen in somber business suits all kaleidoscope through the dream. A few exquisite pieces of lacquer ware and a hand painted folding screen decorate a small space.

Zen interior
Zen interior

Yoshiko and Erik sit at a table across from an old Japanese couple with gentle smiles and parchment paper skins. The four of them drink tea. In the next scene they lie asleep in blankets on spotless tatami mats.

All four open their eyes as the light wood of the house splinters into match sticks. They look shocked in Ronnie’s direction – and the dream blows apart.

The ground stops convulsing and a gigantic wave with the salt of a billion tears engulfs the collapsed dwelling. Fires burn as poisons spill out into the land, air and waters.

It’s absolute devastation as far as the eye can see, whether on site or from across space and time. Ronnie sees the word TEPCO but has no idea what it means. A disaster is on the way, and her friends and every soul within hundreds of kilometers are doomed to die. Whether the death of one person or ten thousand, the outcome is unchangeable.

This dream of Japan contains only destruction of life and property and an aftermath that will linger, terrible, for generations. She can imagine what poisons are released; she can imagine, but she doesn’t want to.

***

Ronnie wept in great gasps and needed long minutes to convince herself that she wasn’t in the dream earthquake. All the same, she’d experienced a tsunami of the soul.

A disaster was going to strike northern Japan. What the hell could she do with the information, call the Prime Minister and warn him that he needed to put Japan on high alert? Contact TEPCO, whoever or whatever they were? Could she warn Yoshiko and Erik not to move, or to bring Yoshiko’s aged parents to them instead? She had nightmares for weeks.

Ronnie acknowledged the vision’s finality with a heavy heart. She went to going away parties and contributed to the fund for Yoshiko’s retirement present. She took part in the long goodbye with a smile whenever they met, knowing the parting would be final. When they left for Fukoshima, their absence felt like they were already dead.

That early farewell to Erik and Yoshiko pushed her into a deeper process of farewells. Ronnie was detaching more and more, from everybody and everything. She couldn’t be sure when the next person she knew would show up in a vision.

***

– from my chapter “Precognitious” in Tsunami Cowboys. Available online at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere. This link gets you there.

Uwe’s photos of our trip to Japan and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.