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Sterling Heights

March 26, 2013

Local Buddhists to mark Southeast Asian New Year

By Eric Czarnik
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
From left, Pra Ahchan Ken, Pra Ahchan Boon, Pra Ahchan Sam, Pra Ahchan Komcha and Pra Ahchan Pimol hold a ceremony outside the Buddhist Meditation Center/Wat Paknam Michigan in Sterling Heights March 21. The ceremony is for a new building they wish to build.

A local Buddhist temple is seeking to enlighten the community about a fluid festival that is popular in parts of Asia.

Buddhists and other celebrants will observe Songkran, or the Southeast Asian New Year,  April 21 at the Buddhist Meditation Center/Wat Paknam Michigan in Sterling Heights.

Meditation center member Su McKeithen-Polish expects a turnout of about 300 people from mostly Southeast Asian and European backgrounds at the event.

She said the occasion is celebrated in Thailand, Laos and other Buddhist regions in Southeast Asia. Many people celebrate Songkran from April 13-15.

“It’s an opportunity for our community and for even outsiders to observe our traditions of the Thai Buddhists making merit, and to receive blessing, ensure prosperity and happiness in their lives,” she said. 

McKeithen-Polish said the New Year celebrates new beginnings as the dry season in that region ends and the rainy season begins. The weather also carries spiritual connotations, she said.

“This is the hot season,” she said. “It’s almost a cleansing of the old year to receive the monsoon season, starting the next year.”

She said many people sprinkle and bless one another with water during Songkran. A water sprinkling ceremony is used to show reverence to elders, she explained.

“We do have that ceremony of paying respect to the elder, sprinkling water in their hands, sprinkling water on a statue of Buddha,” she said.

McKeithen-Polish said women wear vivid clothing during the festival, and the Sterling Heights event will feature a traditional dress competition for young people and adults. “It’s not a beauty pageant, in a sense, but it’s a traditional dress of showing respect to our culture,” she said.

The Buddhist Meditation Center was founded in 2009. McKeithen-Polish explained that she used to be involved with a Buddhist temple in Denver, but when she arrived in Michigan around 10 years ago, she said, it took time to find a spiritual home. She said she didn’t feel connected until she discovered the meditation center, which she described as “very welcoming.”

Another member from the group, Jim Kinnear, said he drives all the way to Sterling Heights from Toledo, Ohio, to attend functions and group activities. He explained that respect for elders is a big part of Southeast Asian culture that transcends Songkran.

“The kids are expected to take care of their parents for their whole life, and most of them do that even till this day,” he said.

The Buddhist Meditation Center/Wat Paknam Michigan, 8500 Plumbrook Road in Sterling Heights, will celebrate Songkran, the Southeast Asian New Year, starting at 9 a.m. April 21. Learn more by calling (586) 979-3300.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Eric Czarnik at eczarnik@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1058.