As you can see, here is a genuine ‘money tree’, actually several of them. They grow up rather quickly in many places in Thailand. Now I have to admit that the growth of the tree has less to do with fertile soil than with the generosity of the Thai people.
‘Money trees’ are set up in a public place, like here in a fruit and vegetable market. People then place money on the tree until it grows into a very expensive tree. The purpose of this is to support a temple project such as a new construction or a renovation project or another pious cause.
Volunteers take care of the project and the trees. After the trees have ‘grown’ enough money, they are being carried in a procession to the temple that receives the money. Dozens or hundreds of people join the lengthy procession while bands are playing music, people are drinking and dancing and the mood is ‘party-time’. Slowly the traveling money tree show arrives at the temple where the money is presented to the monks.
The party continues in the temple grounds. The monks are sitting and solemnly chanting. There is lots of food, the atmosphere is festive, the noise and the music are deafening, there is all kinds of entertainment, countless people are streaming in and out of the temple grounds and it is a good reason to pass the Thai whiskey bottle around.
People kneel in front of the Buddha statues and make offerings of candles, incense and flowers, praying for some benefit. Sometimes the noise abates and the monks deliver a sermon on ‘dharma’, the right way to live life.
In Thailand, religious events are part of social life. Nobody is expected or coerced to go to the temples, but most people visit temples since that is where you accrue ‘spiritual brownie points’, good karma, merit for yourself and your family, and that is where the parties are, where the fun is, where people meet and talk and form community bonds, where they have a common purpose to support their temple.