Thailand's rebel female Buddhist monks defy tradition
Updated : January 04, 2019 03:05 PM IST
Boodsabann Chanthawong recently joined a growing number of women defying generations of Thai Buddhist tradition by becoming ordained as novice monks at an unrecognised all-female monastery outside Bangkok.
Leading a procession of 21 other women - from teenagers to senior citizens - to a chapel in the Songdhammakalyani monastery in Nakhon Pathom province, Boodsabann teared up as she prepared to exchange her white garments for the distinctive saffron robes otherwise seen almost exclusively on male monks.
Officially, only men can become monks and novices in Thailand under a Buddhist order that since 1928 has forbidden the ordination of women. The country does not recognisefemale monks or novices.
One option for devout Thai women is to become white-clad Buddhist nuns, who follow a less-strict religious regimen than monks and are often relegated to housekeeping tasks in temples.
In recent years, more Thai Buddhist women seeking to become full-fledged "bhikkunis", or female monks, have been defying the tradition by pursuing the other option: getting ordained overseas, usually in Sri Lanka or India.
There are about 270 female monks across Thailand and they were all ordained abroad, Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, the 74-year-old abbess of the Songdhammakalyani monastery said, adding that her monastery houses seven of them. In contrast, Thailand has more than 250,000 male monks.
Efforts in the past by advocates to undo the 1928 order have been futile. It has been officially upheld during meetings of the Sangha Supreme Council, the council of top monks, in 2002 and most recently in 2014.
The government says this is not gender discrimination but a matter of long-held tradition, and women are free to travel abroad to be ordained, just not in their own country.