Tue, Jan 18, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Thais pray this week to put wandering spirits at rest

THE GUARDIAN , Khao Lak, Thailand

Thousands of Thais will take part in a week of formal Buddhist and Chinese rituals beginning today to lay to rest the "wandering spirits" of the tsunami victims.

In a deeply spiritual country, many survivors have become increasingly concerned about the presence of angry spirits. The survivors cite traditional Buddhist teaching, which says that the spirits of those who suffer a sudden, violent death often roam the land until they are calmed and blessed.

Ceremonies will take place in Phuket and Phang Nga and small groups of Buddhist monks are also touring beaches, particularly the razed resorts at Khao Lak, where they turn to the ocean and lay to rest the spirits that are still out at sea. In nearby Krabi City monks have sought to ward off stray spirits by encircling the entire settlement with a holy thread.

By night people sit, reflecting on the disaster that befell them and telling tales of the tsunami and what they have seen since.

Many are straightforward ghost stories, often derived from the Buddhist belief in the wandering spirits.

One night last week a taxi driver in Patong Beach was said to have been hailed by four western tourists, who asked him to take them to the airport. He chatted as he drove, grateful to have a rare tourist fare. When he pulled up and turned round to let them out there was no one in his cab. His story was reported in a local newspaper.

It is no accident that the main morgue at Wat Yanyao is based inside a Buddhist temple. Many Thais are deeply troubled by the presence of so many unidentified bodies.

They believe it is not just survivors and pathologists who want to identify the corpses but that the wandering spirits, too, are seeking their bodies from the 4,000 stacked anonymously in grey refrigerated containers inside the temple grounds.

Jureeporn Khongkhem, 24, said"Two people died from the tsunami in my house. When I sleep now the door opens by itself. I get up and close the door and when I wake it is open again. Some nights it looks like people carry chairs about in my room."

When Khongkhem gets scared she calls her neighbor round.

"My friend had dreams asking her to go to a place to find the bodies because they haven't been collected yet," she said. "That's the spirits speaking."

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