Bangkok: Foreigners blamed for quieting a temple bell

Every morning at 4 a.m., a monk at Bangkok's 300-year-old Wat Sai temple rings a massive bell to announce the start of the day. The bell rings for some 20 minutes, and for many religious Thais in the area, it is part of a sacred ritual. In Buddhism, the ringing of a bell carries a spiritual meaning.

But residents of the newly constructed Star View apartment complex are not happy with this ritual and have complained to the authorities about it.

Last week, Wat Sai's abbot Phreecha Punnasilo received a letter from the district office, urging him to keep the ringing sound to a minimum, as residents of the luxury condos filed a complaint against the noise.

"We cannot simply stop the bell ringing," Punnasilo told DW. "It's our tradition and it serves as a prayer timetable for monks," the abbot said.

After police gave a formal warning to the monks, they had no option but to lower the volume of bell ringing.

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But what started as a neighborhood row slowly turned into a major conflict, as local media picked up the temple bell issue.

While some Thais say they support the residents of the Bang Kholaem district, others criticized the authorities for interfering with the Buddhist faith.

Even Bangkok's mayor, Aswin Kwanmuan, became involved. Kwanmuan invited temple authorities, Star View residents and district officers to a meeting planned for next week and requested all parties suggest ways to resolve the issue.

The Buddhist Council of Thailand says it is important to find middle ground to deal with the issue.

Thai leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha recently warned the temple management and residents to avoid making a "big fuss" out of the bell ringing issue. The junta leader said the monks and apartment residents need to deal with the issue peacefully.

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Modernity vs. tradition

The issue took a weird twist when Thai actor Petch Karoonpon claimed only one Star View apartment tenant had a problem with the morning bell.

"The person in question is a foreign resident, who complained to district officials," Punnasilo said, supporting Karoonpon's claims.

What was initially considered as a citizens' rights issue, has for many in Bangkok become a question of "foreigner's ignorance" toward Thai traditions.

Mayor Kwanmuan visited the Wat Sai temple and apologized to the monks on behalf of the district office. The same day, the director of the district office was replaced.

A few days later, police raided the Star View complex and checked the tenants' resident permits.

"You reap what you sow," monk Punnasilo said, responding to the government's action against those who complained against the bell noise.

The bell controversy could have legal consequences for the complainant, as his action could be interpreted as a violation of the right to worship, which in Thailand is punishable to up to seven years in prison.

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