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Ta Thi Tam
Lung ta (hair washing) ceremony is an important activity in the spiritual life of Thai ethnic people - inhabitants of the northwestern region where the Da river runs through.
The ceremony, which is held at noon on the last day of the twelfth lunar month, aims to wash out bad luck of the old year and pray for a happy new year. The ceremony reflects the water culture of the Thai who have lived by the Da river for generations.
Two or three weeks before the ceremony, Thai women prepare their special shampoo by washing sticky rice and keeping the rice water in an earthen pot for at least one week until it turns sour. Sour rice water is believed to make the hair smooth and shiny. The shampoo for men is soap berry liquid made from soap berries burnt and then soaked in hot water. Thai women also make a bath liquid for their family members to use during lung ta. This fragrant lotion is made from thyme and dried basil and citronella leaves boiled together. Thai people are supposed to wash their hair and have a bath on the last day of the year in the hope of getting rid of dust, misfortune and sadness of the old year.
Lung ta is an occasion for villagers to wear their beautiful costumes. Women usually wear a bodice inside and a long black dress with two colorful bands gracefully falling down the chest. Men wear a black shirt and a dark-colored turban.
The conductor of lung ta is a sorcerer or the village patriarch who wears a flint-lock, a scabbard and thong seng (a small colorfully embroidered bag containing some money and silver) which are symbolic objects of Thai ancestors.
Led by the ceremony conductor who is followed by two young men beating drums, villagers in new clothing silently walk in a line to the river bank, carrying a water bucket and a green tree branch which is used in the hair washing rite.
Before the ceremony starts, young people play nem con (throwing a cloth ball through a ring), sing and dance at the river bank, a formality not only for warming up before having a bath in the river but also for praying for a happy, prosperous and peaceful new year.
Opening the ceremony, the rite conductor beats a drum and sets off firecrackers. He then recites prayers to gods:
As the old year passes and the new year approaches,
We ring out the old and ring in the good,
Praying for a prosperous new year,
A new year without bad luck which will go away and never come back,
A new year full of good luck.
After praying, he fires a shotgun or beats a drum roll to start the hair washing formality. Women slowly step into the river, pulling their dresses up as high as the water rise. Standing in a line, they lower their heads and let their hair fall into the water. They then dip the green tree branch in the water and slightly beat it onto their hair, a symbolic act to get rid of misfortunes of the old year. They then slowly pour the sour rice water onto their heads, symbolizing good luck of the new year. In this ceremony, women and little girls wash their hair downstream while men and boys go upstream.
After the hair washing formality, villagers do the washing in the river to make their clothes clean to welcome the new year.-