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Loei offers high spirits this June

Rocket festival takes flight in Yasothon

 

Loei offers high spirits this June

Phi Ta Khon Festival in Dan Sai

The Phi Ta Khon festival is unique to the Dan Sai district in Loei Province and reflects the local Isan belief in ghosts and spirits. Held once a year, it is part of a grand merit-making festival known as the “Boon Luang” festival.

The origins of the Phi Ta Khon Festival can be found in the tale of Lord Buddha’s last great incarnation before attaining Enlightenment. In Buddhist accounts, it is said that when Prince Vessandara, the Buddha’s penultimate incarnation, returned to his city, it was such a joyous occasion that the village spirits came forth to join the welcoming parade. This very colourful and vibrant Phi Ta Khon procession is the central focus of the celebrations.

In a lively re-enactment of the tale, the young men of the community dress up as “spirits” wearing long trailing costumes made from colourful strips of cloth sewn together.

The hideous-looking Phi Ta Khon mask which is made of dried sticky rice husk is painted in bright red, green or other colours, and features the characteristic long pointed nose. This completes the transformation. The clanging sound of the square cowbells worn around the waist announces the presence of the spirits who wield phallic-shaped long-handled swords decorated with red paint. The good-natured, fun-loving spirits mingle among the crowd, teasing and amusing all who take part in the procession. Spectators and visitors are welcome to join in the fun.

There are two types of “spirits” featured in the Phi Ta Khon procession namely the “Phi Ta Khon Yai” — the supreme Phi Ta Khon, and the “Phi Ta Khon Lek”, the ones that are commonly found. The making of the Phi Ta Khon Yai involves the performance of a sacred ritual to seek the blessings of the supreme powers before work on the Phi Ta Khon Yai masks can be initiated. It is also a task reserved exclusively for the descendants of families in which the tradition of making Phi Ta Khon masks has been practised for several generations. The Phi Ta Khon Yai is made of bamboo and is dressed in either male or female attire.

The Phi Ta Khon Festival runs from June 12 to 14 in the Dan Sai District of Loei Province. (TAT)

 

Rocket festival takes flight in Yasothon

The underlying logic and science behind the famous rocket festival, scheduled for 5 to 9 May, in the unassuming northeast town of Yasothon, is not to be found in a chemistry laboratory. While the rocket owners pack as much as 25 kg of black powder into plastic or bamboo pipes to give their homemade missiles take off, the blueprints for this exceptionally noisy festival are traced in the mystical skies ruled by gods. Approaching rain clouds signal the start of the rice planting season, but according to northeastern folklore the first raindrops fall only when the gods are in the mood for love. They need encouragement hence the importance of the Bun Bang Fai, or rocket festival, to stir the mythical community, resident in the heavens, to bless earth with fertility and rain.

One mother of all rockets shoots high into the sky possibly for a kilometre or more stimulating the gods to action. Its vapour trail and height is seen as an omen. The higher it goes, the more rain will fall on the northeast plateau bringing good fortune and a bumper rice harvest.

None of these lofty goals prevent Yasothon’s residents and thousands of visitors from the more earthly pleasures of merry making associated with their homemade rockets.All sizes and shapes are built around a simple plastic or bamboo pipe packed solid with black powder and fuses. They can be up to 10 metres, or more, in length, as long as they are capable of powering into the skies at blast off. Anything short of that spectacle prompts a chorus of laughter from the crowd and even a few missiles of mud aimed at the head of the hapless rocket owner.

While the rockets compete, the crowd is entertained with comedy, often bawdy with a smattering of dirty jokes and raucous country music. It’s a genuine farming community excuse to have fun and get the planting season off to a good start.

Accidents are few and far between, but as the beer and rice whisky flows, missiles may stutter, wobble or even do some low flying antics over the tents and entertainment stages. Rocket festivals are held throughout the region and in neighbouring Laos, but Yasothon residents, noted for their sense of humour, inspire an event that draws international visitors attracted by a hilarious three-day party. It embodies Isaan’s ability to rise above the hardships of tilling the land. The Bun Ban Fai will take place at the Phaya Thaen Park, Muang District, inYasothon from May 5 to 9. (TAT)