How to behave at a Ceremony in Thailand
From: Pensri Kiengsiri, Sudchit Bhinyoying, Malithat Promathatavedi, Thai Social Etiquette, Ministry of Culture, Bangkok 2007, ISBN 974-9681-45-2
There are several types of ceremonies in Thailand in connection with birth, graduation, marriage, ordination, death, as well as ceremonies that are performed for the propagation of fertility and auspiciousness, and other ceremonies that are religious in nature in Thai society.
If there is an invitation card, one should answer whether or not to attend. If the ceremony is announced publicly, there is no need to answer. Dress code depends on the nature of the ceremony whether formal or informal, and the time when it is held. If it is festive, especially a wedding, black or mauve is frowned upon as black is the colour of mourning and mauve is the colour of widows. The Western 'chic little black dress' is considered improper.
When arriving at the ceremony, respect should be paid to the host or the one presiding over the ceremony with the proper krap or wai. Then pay respect to the Buddha image, if one is installed, three times in the Benchangkhapradit posture.
When the monks are chanting, keep palms pressed at chest level all through and no conversation should be carried on. To present or receive something to/from a monk, one should kneel. A male can hand or receive things directly to/from the monk's hand, but a female is not supposed to touch any part of the monk. For this purpose, the monk would spread a piece of cloth before him and the woman would place whatever to be presented to him on it. The monk may drop some token like a small Buddha image or amulet in her hand without touching it. Make a wai every time when presenting or receiving things.
At a Thai-style wedding ceremony, guests, usually older than the bride and groom, are invited to pour lustral water on the couple's hands from a conch and give them a blessing. There is no specific rule whether to pour the water on the bride's or the groom's hand first. Some guests may prefer to pour the water on the party with whom they are more familiar first. As soon as one finishes, step aside to make room for other guests.
There are three rites involving a funeral. The first one is the bathing rite. Often this is performed at a temple. As the rite is sometimes spontaneous, some guests may not have known beforehand and thus are not properly dressed in black, the colour of mourning. This is acceptable. If the deceased receives a royally-sponsored ceremony, after the royal lustral water has been delivered, no one else can bathe the body. Usually the water is poured over the hand of the deceased, accompanied by a wai.
The second rite is the chanting for the deceased, the duration of which can be three to seven nights. This rite is held, sometime right after the bathing rite, around seven o'clock at most temples. Women should wear black and refrain from putting on too much make-up or jewellery.
It is customary to send a wreath of fresh or artificial flowers, or an offering of money to show condolence to the host. After greeting the host, guests then enter the pavilion to pay respect to the Buddha image first by performing krap three times, then paying one krap to the deceased, now placed in a coffin. A joss-stick may also be lit. The host for each night of the chanting lights the candle and joss-sticks and pays homage to the Buddha image to signify that the rite has begun. Four monks perform three rounds of chanting, then take a break during which time guests may be served refreshments or snacks. Then the fourth and final round of chanting is performed. While the monks are chanting, the guests should refrain from talking and pay attention. Make a wai when the monks arrive and leave. Sometimes when attending the chanting rite for a friend's parent, people tend to forget that it is a sombre occasion, not a class reunion, and chat all through the chanting.
The third rite involves the funeral. The body is kept for a certain period, 50 days, 100 days, or one year, depending on the family. It is customary to attend a funeral without being formally invited. The cremation takes place at a temple and the burial at a cemetery. If it is a royally sponsored funeral presided over by His Majesty the King or other members of the Royal Family, guests should arrive not less than one hour before time. At the sound of the bugles, signifying that His Majesty has arrived, rise to greet him. Remain standing until His Majesty has taken his seat. After His Majesty has presented the saffron robes to the officiating monks, lit the pyre, and returned to be seated, the guests, according to ranks and protocol, may then put the dok mai chan (artificial flowers made from fragrant wood shavings) as offerings into the fire. When descending from the crematorium, bow or curtsy before His Majesty then return to the seats. Souvenirs of the funeral in the form of books about the deceased or other tokens are distributed, usually when the guests come down from the crematorium. Women should wear hose and long skirts at royally sponsored funerals. When His Majesty takes his leave, remain standing.