Thai cave boys ordained as Buddhist novices to honour dead rescuer

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The 11 rescued members of Wild Boars football team, together with their coach and monks, at the Phra That Doi Wao Buddhist temple during an ordination ceremony on July 24, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Eleven boys from a football team rescued from a flooded Thai cave in a drama that gripped global audiences were ordained as Buddhist novices on Wednesday (July 25), in memory of a volunteer diver who died during their rescue.

The boys and their 25-year-old coach, Mr Ekapol Chanthawong, arrived at the Wat Phra That Doi Tung temple in Chiang Rai's Mae Sai district dressed in white robes amid light rain and fog.

The group listened to Buddhist chanting before they were given saffron robes to wear during an emotionally charged ceremony that was broadcast live on Facebook by local authorities.

The group had their hair shaved a day earlier in preparation to become novice Buddhist monks.

"Their lives will change now. This experience will help them to appreciate their parents and give them a taste of Dhamma," Mr Manit Prakobkit, vice-chairman of the Mae Sai Cultural Council, told local media.

The boys and their coach will live for nine days at a Buddhist temple and adhere to the teachings and precepts of Buddhism, which is Thailand's main religion.

One of the boys, 14-year-old Adul Sam-on, is a Christian and was not ordained.

An international operation to rescue the 12 boys and their coach ended on July 10 when the last of the group was brought to safety from inside the flooded Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai.

During the rescue operation, the boys' families promised that in return for their safe rescue and in memory of diver Saman Gunan, 38, the boys would be ordained as novices.

Mr Saman, a former member of Thailand's elite navy Seals unit, was the only casualty in the operation to save the boys and their coach after monsoon rain trapped them inside the cave.

At the temple on Wednesday, the boys helped one another to put on their new garments in a ceremony attended by their relatives and Mr Saman's wife, Ms Valeepoan Gunan.

The ceremony ended with attendees and temple visitors scrambling to collect pockets of coins scattered into the air - a custom in Thai ordination rites to signify giving up worldly treasures - with most catching the pockets in their umbrellas.

The boys and Mr Ekapol had gone to explore the caves on June 23 when they became trapped. They survived for nine days on water dripping from rocks before they were discovered on a muddy mound by divers.

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