MAE SAI, Thailand – Three weeks after they came out of a flooded cave complex, escorted by experienced divers while their families and devotees around the world waited for their safety, Thais, known as wild boars, started a ceremony on Tuesday to become Buddhist novices
The boys and their trainer wore white pants and ran in a row in the city of Mae Sai in the north. Hundreds of fans stood behind them with their cell phones, occasionally trying to take a quick picture as the team passed by.
"It's enough!" The acting chief monk, Prayut Jetiyanukan, said about the speaker system in the temple Wat Phra that Doi Wao. He struggled to maintain a bleak and respectful mood as the boys' ordination process began, adding, "Fans, please come back, they have not slept properly for days and need their rest."
Adul Sam-on, 14, is not a stateless Christian from Myanmar
Entrusted to the monastic community a new beginning after a ordeal that came together Thousands of volunteers from all over the world pushed the young Thais into the international limelight.
The twelve footballers and their coach fell into the trap on 23 June due to rising water in Tham Luang Cave. Two British divers found them in the complex 10 days later, sitting on a bench where they had survived condensation from the cave walls. For the next week, a coalition of SEAL members of the Thai Navy, foreign military teams and volunteer cave divers joined forces to lead them. On July 10, the last of the confined were rescued, and after 10 days of observation in a Chiang Rai hospital, they went out as international celebrities.
"They realize that their lives are not the same as before," said Somsak Kanakham, the district chief of Mae Sai. "We try to do our best to guide them."
Now they want to show their appreciation through monastic work. In traditional Thai Buddhist culture, such ordination can mean the repayment of a debt. For the boys, their time at the temple is honored by Saman Gunan, a 38-year-old retired member of the Thai Navy SEAL who died as he submerged air tanks along the underwater escape route. They spend nine days praying and doing charity work in a Buddhist monastery.
Traditionally, all Thai men are monks for a period of 20 years. If they do this earlier, they are "novices" monks time to reflect and pay homage. After the great effort to save them, the ordination of the boys is not uncommon. Most Thais practice Theravada Buddhism and being a monk in honor of a human being is considered one of the highest honors anyone can give.
Mattia Salvini, a scholar of Buddhism at Mahidol University outside of Bangkok, said that many religious activities take place in countries. This practice of Theravada Buddhism is understood primarily in terms of merit or the creation of good karma.
Another purpose of temporary ordination, in addition to increasing earnings, may be to improve the karma of other people, including the deceased, said Edoardo Siani, an anthropologist at Kyoto University who specializes in Buddhism in present-day Thailand ,
"On the one hand, ordination is a transitional ritual for her, which after having spent a long time in an underworld, cleans it of dangerous spirits and after causing other trouble," Mr. Siani said by e-mail ,
Praphun Khomjoi, director of Chiang Rai's office of Budd hism, said the goal was for the boys to "cleanse, pay tribute to Lieutenant Gunan and pay respect to the king."
Buddhist practices also came into play during the ordeal. From his monastic years, Ekkapol, 25, taught the boys he trained to meditate in the cave to keep calm and let time pass.
As soon as their short monastic life ends, the wild boars will start new lives, most likely in public
"In monasticism they will have a period of peace," said Mr. Somsak, the head of the Mae Sai district. "After that, it will be a new life for all of us."
At the moment, the Thai government has asked that the boys not be molested. Officials have warned that people carrying out unauthorized interviews could be prosecuted under Thailand's child protection laws.
Several film companies have expressed interest in the production of works based on the experience of the team, and the government has announced to consider such efforts.
In Mae Sai, local officials are worried about how these offers could affect the city's residents.
"Fame is dangerous," said Mr. Somsak. "These people do not come from rich families, and it can be tempting to be confronted with the money and benefits they have never had before."
Ben C. Solomon spoke of Mae Sai and Austin Ramzy of Hong Kong. Mike Ives contributed reports from Hong Kong.