In May in Thailand, you have the opportunity to attend surprising festivals, the rocket festivals especially organised in North-eastern Thailand, also known as Isan, a region where almost all communities have their own rocket festival and Northern Thailand. Off course there are some places where the event is bigger and attracts more people but they all are very festive moments.
Rocket Festivals in Thailand
When I talk about rocket festivals, or Bun Bang Fai festivals (ประเพณีบุญบั้งไฟ), don’t expect to see a big event about space conquest and ships to explore March, the rockets here are homemade black powder rockets.
The rocket festival marks the beginning of the rainy season in Thailand and aims to appease the spirits of the rain. It would ensure people will be blessed with abundant rain for their rice plantations. According to egends, the origins of this ancient tradition goes back to the pre-Buddhist era and the rockets have only been introduced in the 9th century when the powder became known in Southeast Asia.
The celebrations usually last 3-4 days and include music and dance performances, parades in the streets with dancers and musicians and floats on the second day and end on the third day with the launch of the rockets from the morning to the evening.
And of course, there is a rocket competition rewarding the one that went the highest and the furthest.
These Buddhist festivals are presumed to have evolved from pre-Buddhist fertility rites held to celebrate and encourage the coming of the rains, from before the 9th century invention of black powder. This festival displays some earthy elements of Lao folklore. Coming immediately prior to the planting season, the festivals offer an excellent chance to make merry before the hard work begins, as well as enhancing communal prestige, and attracting and redistributing wealth as in any gift culture.
Scholars study the centuries-old rocket festival tradition today as it may be significant to the history of rocketry in the East, and perhaps also significant in the postcolonial socio-political development of the Southeast Asian nation states. Economically, villages and sponsors bear the costs in many locations in Laos and in northern Isan (northeast Thailand). The festivals typically begin at the beginning of the rainy season, in the sixth or seventh lunar months.
Anthropology Professor Charles F. Keyes advises, “In recognition of the deep-seated meaning of certain traditions for the peoples of the societies of mainland Southeast Asia, the rulers of these societies have incorporated some indigenous symbols into the national cultures that they have worked to construct in the postcolonial period. Giving the “Bun Bang Fai or fire rocket festival of Laos” as one example, he adds that it remains “…far more elaborate in the villages than in the cities….”
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