Eleven members of the Wild Boars soccer team, who were rescued from a flooded cave in northern Thailand after being trapped for 18 days, completed their temporary ordination as novice monks at Pha That Doi Wao Temple in northern Thailand on Saturday. Their coach, Ekapol “Ek” Chanthawong, will remain at the monastery for three months, having undertaken full monastic vows for the duration of the Buddhist rains retreat.
The agonizing plight of the 12 boys, aged 11–17, and their coach, 25, who found themselves trapped by monsoon floodwaters while exploring the Tham Luang Cave complex in Chiang Rai on 23 June, captivated the attention and hearts of people around the world. Millions of observers breathed a collective sigh of relief as the last group of boys emerged safely from what became an 18-day ordeal, on 10 July. The masterfully planned rescue operation, led by an international team of divers and Thai Navy SEALs, was closely monitored via media outlets and online social platforms, which shared every tortuous step as the mission played out over hours and days.*
But grief over the loss of former Thai navy SEAL Petty Officer Saman Gunan, 38, who died during a pivotal moment of the complicated rescue mission as the team members increased their efforts amid forecasts of monsoonal rain and falling oxygen levels in the cave cast a shadow over the joy of the heroic rescue. Saman had volunteered his services and was part of a team responsible for replacing oxygen canisters along the exit route to make the hours-long passage possible. On 6 July, he collapsed while diving. According to officials, his own oxygen supply had run out.
Eleven of the boys and their coach ordained as novice monks as a tribute to “Sergeant Sam,” as Saman Gunan is now affectionately known in Thailand, and to offer the merit generated by their ordination for his rebirth. The boys spent nine days meditating, praying, and doing chores at the temple. Nine being considered an auspicous number in Thailand. One of the boys is Christian and did not ordain.
On Saturday, around 300 people gathered for the disrobing ceremony, the orange robes and shaved heads of the boys contrasting with the white worn by their family members, as all gathered in the large pavilion of Wat Pha That Doi Wao. After listening to chants and prayers by the assembled monks, the boys placed their new robes before a portrait of Saman Gunan and changed into blue pants and white shirts—white representing the Buddhist rains retreat. While waiting for the boys, those present also left offerings in the form of flowers, food, and money on the table with Saman Gunan’s portrait.
The monks of the temple blessed the boys as they asked permission to leave the temple in unison. Each stated, “I am now a layman,” and then returned to their friends and families. Ek, the boys’ coach, was present for the ceremony but remained in his monastic robe as he has extended his period in the monkhood.
A week before the boys ordained, they were released from hospital and declared to be in good physical and mental health, but psychologists have warned that the boys remain vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In response, the Thai government has instructed the media not to approach the boys for interviews for the time being, to give them time to reconnect with friends and family mebers, and to readjust to their normal lives.
The heightened interest in the boys, their coach, and the heroic rescue is not expected to abate any time soon, with Hollywood producers looking into the possibility of a cinematic adaptation of the rescue. In Thailand, some have voiced concern over the Thai government seeking to take control over the rescue’s narrative with potential national election coming up next year. The government has already announced that it will build a museum commemorating the rescue, which is expected to open in the next six months, and a statue of Saman, who is now considered a national hero and was cremated in a royally sponsored funeral.
Thai cave boys return home after completing training at Buddhist temple (The Telegraph)
Thai cave rescue: 11 footballers complete 9-day ordination as Buddhist novices (Straits Times)
Thai cave boys leave monastery after novice monkhood (BBC)