Entering a Thai temple is fraught with danger. Sit the wrong way, step on the wrong thing, or touch the wrong person and a lifetime of bad karma is heading for your door.
I’ve been to a good number of temples so I thought I knew the drill. Walk over the red step when entering, point your feet away from the Buddha, don’t pat the friendly novice monk on the head. So when my wife suggested a temple visit to mark Mother’s Day, it sounded straightforward.
“OK, so we’ll leave tomorrow and take all the eggs with us,” she enthused.
“Right. Hang on, eggs?”
“Of course, we’re going to the Chachoengsao temple, so we need 100 boiled eggs.”
The next morning our kitchen resembled a Turkish sauna as the steam billowing from it confirmed the eggs were ready. With the eggs on board we headed off for Chachoengsao, a modest town 70kms northeast of Bangkok. Wat Sothon, an immense white temple with elegant, elaborate carving all around, was our destination.
The mother-in-law pulled in just after our arrival, and the ritual began. I joined a queue, or rather a scrum, of people waiting to buy three incense sticks, a candle and gold leaf carefully wrapped in paper. We delivered the eggs, all neatly stacked in cardboard cartons, onto a large shelf along with dozens of identical offerings. My next task was to carefully peal the top off one of the eggs, presumably as evidence that these were indeed hard-boiled and ready for consumption.
We joined hundreds of worshippers who slowly, but deliberately, edged their way forward towards a long row of burning yellow candles and incense sticks. Once a space emerged, a hand would thrust forward clasping a candle and deliver it firmly into a soft bed of sand.
An adjacent room housed several life-size Buddha images. The intense sun’s rays splintered through the shrine’s shutters and lit up the golden statues. Their shimmering glow was maintained by the gold leaf bought by visitors, which was delicately positioned and then rubbed on. The bigger Buddhas attracted quite some attention, and there is more than a little shoving and jostling as people vie to land their leaf on the deity’s most auspicious digit. Once free from the heat and humidity of the shrine, I assumed our job was done and we were still on course for Nirvana. But not quite.
“Don’t forget to collect the eggs,” my wife said.
“Doesn’t the Buddha want them?” I asked.
Despite my protestations that our 100 boiled eggs would be much better appreciated in the temple, it was my task to bring them back home, though not before we all ate one, just for luck.
Maybe these rituals aren’t so odd after all. Just like leftover turkey at Christmas, we were destined to be eating omelettes, egg salads and sandwiches for the next week. The temple’s preference for eggs is all down to a misunderstanding. Years ago, chicken and duck farms dominated the scenery and so, when it came to making an offering, eggs seemed a good choice. When visitors came and saw the gifts, they assumed this Buddha was partial to anything scrambled, boiled or fried, and a tradition was hatched.