Bai Sri Soo Kwan: A traditional Thai Ceremony
Bai Sri Su Kwan is a welcoming ceremony in many villages and small towns in Isaan Thailand. Some of our Thai hosts participate in Bai Sii when they have someone important, like a volunteer, comes to visit or leave them, when a good friend or relative gets married or becomes a monk and during other important happenings.
Kwan means spirit or soul. Some Thais believe that this kwan can protect them and their friends and family during their lives no matter where they are in the world. We are told one is only able to feel your own protective spirit or kwan; not see it or hear it. Your kwan will bring happiness when it is with you, and if the kwan leaves you there will be problems. One needs to find ways to get the kwan back.
We keep asking how Bai Sri came to be and the answer is usually vague. It is something village elders have taught and valued that has been shared across the country and culture; it is a ritual ceremony passed through generations. One Thai we spoke believed it may have come from an ancient Indian ceremony. Most do not know or even have interest in knowing, it is just a part of life.
During this ceremony a Bai Si tree is brought out; it is often made of green banana leaves and flowers as the centre point. It may signify the centre of the universe. White or colored strings adorn this tree and are used to tie around the wrists of the honored guest. Elders and participants may tie the right hand for women and the left hand for men while some others don’t care – the main focus is in asking the kwan to bring goodness and protection to the person while pushing the string towards the persons heart muftiple times before tying it. Many also ask that anything “bad” please go away from their life while pulling down the wrist away from the person.
Some of Mundo Exchange’s hosts believe in Bai Sri ceremonies on a deep level. Others believe that it is just a good way to welcome volunteers and interns who come to help with community directed projects in Thailand. Whatever the case, all of our Thai team knows that village ways and elders that believe in Bai Sri are to be honored and never belittled. This global cultural exchange is respected by all, even by our atheistic volunteers.
When elders of Isaan were asked how they felt about people who question the importance of this ceremony, most simply laughed without malice, shook their heads and said mai pen rai or never mind. Most of these respected elders feel Bai Sri is a good Thai experience for Mundo Exchange and volunteers. Most elders believe that the disbelievers may be intolerant and unable to see the goodness of actions and ways of anyone but themselves, which can lead to the feeling that only one nation or one person has the true understanding of what is and what should be a feeling that may lead to war and other bad ways.
Our Thai team believes that cross cultural differences between people on this planet is something to be cherished and respected. Most who are off the beaten track during their gap year, retirement years or volunteering projects and come upon this ritual while traveling through Thailand and Asia will find it special and perhaps humbling.
Giving good luck and safety to another for their life is something we all should all think about doing for those we stumble upon in this world. Our Thai friends strongly believe that our volunteers are to be thought of as very special. They have traveled and helped financially through donations to their Thailand self selected projects.
If you have more information or personal experiences with Bai Sri ceremonies, please let us know in the comments. We would like to hear your ideas and if you too thought it was an great experience during your global exchanges and travels.
There is more information out there to be learned and read and we enjoy having a Bai Sri ceremony with all of our volunteers and host families.
Life is good in Isaan, Thailand.