NONTHABURI, THAILAND: Eyes closed and gripping a bouquet of flowers between his palms, Kriangsak Puangsarn quietly prays before lowering himself into a coffin.
As Buddhist monks draw a sheet over the top of the casket, shrouding him in darkness, he undergoes a symbolic death, before the sheet is removed — and he is reborn. “While I was lying down, I felt as if I had been resurrected once I felt the movement of the cloth,” he told AFP.
Ever since monks first began performing this ritual in 2008, dozens of people have been coming each day to Wat Ta Kien temple, around an hour from Bangkok, looking for the chance to start again. The ceremony aims to rid participants of bad karma and help reconcile them to the inevitability of death.
“People cannot escape from being born, getting old, getting ill and dying, so this is like practising dying before you die for real — as when you die, your body has to be put in a coffin anyway,” says the temple’s chief abbot, Phrakru Samusangob Kittiyano.
Monks hold around twelve sessions per day, with the weekends by far the most popular. Around twenty people can take part in each ceremony at a time and there is even an extra-large coffin reserved for entire families.
After reciting prayers, participants line up in front of their casket. Once the order is given by a microphone-wielding monk, each person lies down in his or her coffin.
Bright pink sheets are draped over the coffin and then removed to symbolise death and rebirth in a ritual that lasts barely a minute. The coffins are paid for with donations by the faithful, who hope to improve their karma by donating to the temple.
After a year, they are replaced, with the old coffins given to poor bereaved families. “My friend told me about it after she saw that I had been having bad luck lately”, 25-year old Voravan Satienlerk, who was visiting for the first time, joined by a gaggle of friends, told AFP. “I believe that laying down in this coffin will make my life improve,” she added.