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We go to this particular place, Hongsa Pathumawas Temple (วัดหงษ์ปทุมาวาส), for my birthday merit for another reason. It locates on Chao Phraya River bank in Pratumthani Province, 20 minutes drive from the northern outskirts of Bangkok. The riverside scene not only has less traffic and is more peaceful than the popular tourist spots in the city, the main attraction of this temple is fish. Actually, its nickname is Wang Pla Wat Hongsa(วังปลาวัดหงษ์ – Swan Temple, Fish Palace) because people come here to feed fish as another way to make a merit.
There is always a triangular relationship among animals, human and religions in one way or another. We have been using animals as the medium to the spiritual world since the ancient time. In general, in Thailand, activities that could harm animals including fishing are not allow in Buddhist temples. Hence, they become sanctuaries for all sorts of creatures. Usually, stray dogs and cats are the most common to be found walking around without a hassle. Some places are famous for a particular wildlife such as monkeys, tigers and birds.
Wat Hongsa offers a row of piers for the merit makers to easily feed the fish and they can buy fish food there. Once the food is tossed into the river, the thousands of fish surface and strive for it. To be honest, it is more fun to watch them than anything else.
Moreover, there will also be a mass merit making this afternoon. They are preparing fish and food for, presumably, a corporate group along side with the monks to free and feed them. Those lucky fish, obtained from markets, will not be anyone’s dinner if they still hang around here.
I cannot remember when was the last time I made a random merit, Sankatana (สังฆทาน), to a monk on birthday, probably, at the Thai temple some years ago. Making merit is a Buddhist way to comfort Thai souls in order to live happily in peace in this life and the next.
The ritual is just to get a set of Sankatana offerings then find a monk in a temple and inform him of your intention. Basically, this should be any monk you come across. If you are not able to ceremonially converse in Pali-Sankrit with the monk, which most cannot, he will lead you all through the process. After the set is handed over, you must slowly pour a small jug of water into a bowl while he is praying for you and finally water a big tree near by.