Thai Buddhist Monks Ceremonial Fans
At observances in which Buddhist monks are in attending, one of the more noteworthy paraphernalia is the detailed and decorative monk's fan. It us used to cover the monk's face as he delivers addresses the devottes at the temple. Originally, monks' fans, called talapatr in Thai, were simpler affairs made from palm leaves, and had short handles. There are a number of theories as to their origin, one of the more practical—if not particularly delicate—being that they were for shielding the monk from the smell of putrefaction. The stench was due to the ancient custom of making monastic robes from the shroud in which a corpse has been wrapped—a symbolic act of forswearing of comfort; the monk would have to remove the cloth, using a small palm fan to cover his nose.
The custom later evolved to carrying fans to observances, in particular to funerals. Another theory is that the fan concealed the faces of monks at gatherings of the laity so that the latter could concentrate on the dharma being preached, rather than be distracted by the monks' visual aspect. A legend in Thailand concerns a disciple of the Lord Buddha, Phra Sangkachai, who was so good-looking that many female members of the congregation fell in love with him. Realizing the effect that he had, Sangkajai prayed to be made unattractive. His wish was fulfilled: in certain monasteries, you will see the seated statue of a fat monk with coarse features.
Thus, monks learned to hide their faces when giving sermons or officiating at ceremonies. Beyond these tales, the Buddha himself carried a fan when he went to preach to his father, King Suthothana, and so the item has become a symbol of spiritual authority. It was perhaps inevitable that such a symbol would evolve from simple palm leaves into beautiful ceremonial fans, now called pad rong.
At first, the fan was an object that ordinary people could themselves make, as an offering to monks of the local monastery. Offerings, of course, were a accepted way of acquiring merit; inscriptions found at Wat Chang Lom and dating to AD 1384 record the presentation of ceremo-nial fans to high-ranking monks. Fans given as offerings began as interwoven bamboo or feathers, but as the greater beauty of the item would affect the degree of merit, there was continuous improvement. Carved ivory might be used, or satin, or silk, enhanced by embellishment and even gems, according to the means and devotion of the individual seeking merit. The ordinary palm-leaf fans waned in use as they appeared less and less fitting.