Bun Luang

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title.alternative : Phi Ta Khon, Bun Pha Wet, Bun Pha Wes, Bun Bung Fai, Bun Sum Ha
event date.month : May,June
event date.lunar month : 6th-7th lunar month
location : Dan Sai district,Loei province
province / region : Northeast
: Loei
subject : calendrical rites,festive rites/rites for social auspiciousness
relations : Boon Pha Wet
keywords : Bun Luang, Phi Ta Khon, Bun Pha Wet, Bun Sum Ha, Bun Duean Hok, Bung Fai, Dan Sai
creator : Srisakra Vallibhodhom, et al.,Supitcha Nakkong
date.issued : 3 May 2016
date.last updated : 20 Sep 2017

Boon Luang at Dansai district

The Bun Luang Festival known as “heat duean pad” or the 8th month tradition (one of the 12-month traditions, or the “heat sib song, kong sib si”) is held annually by the locals of Dan Sai District in Loei Province.  The activities take place at Wat Phon Chai first.  Later the branch temples of Wat Phon Chai, which are Wat Si Sa-ard, Wat Phosinawiangyai and Wat Si Bhoom, take turns to host.  They all do the same rituals, but the grandeur of the activities differs according to the local residents’ readiness to host this religious event.  The biggest celebration, however, must be the one at Wat Phon Chai.

          The Bun Luang is an amalgam of 2 different merit-making traditions observed in 2 different months, i.e. the 4th month Bun Pha Wet (or the Vessantara Festival) and the Bun Bang Fai in the 6th month.  Together they are known as the Bun Luang/Bun Yai, or the big merit-making event.

          In the Bun Vessantara, the belief is that merit is earned if one listens to the sermons on “Malai Muen Malai San,” “Sangkat” and “Vessantara” respectively.  Listening to a series of all these chapters of the Great Birth in one day will earn the listener a great merit which will lead to his rebirth in the Sri Mettreyya time, and which will mean a totally blissful life (Dhammat Niyomratcharoon 2553: 9; Thairoj Puangmanee 2554: 45)

The Bun Bung Fai is a fertility rite in which local people pay respects to sacred beings and the city pillar spirit.  They will stage a procession which features spectacular rain-making fire rockets.  The rockets will be launched into the sky to appease Phaya Thaen, the main god of Isan, so that he would agree to send rain in the rainy season, which is vital for good cultivation of crops and thus the well-being of the local folks.  As the rite is also related to the belief in other protective spirits in nature, the fire rockets are ritualistic offerings to them as well.  To communicate with those other spirits, the Dan Sai people need to ask Chao Por Guan’s spirit to be the medium. So, unique to Dan Sai is to have Chao Por Guan sitting on top of the rockets that the people carry in the procession.  (Rattana Sangsawang 2552: 143)

In the evening of the last day of the sermons, the residents are prepared to do the “Lon Chapter” parade.  Monks from other temple are invited by Wat Phon Chai to join this last day’s sermon delivering.  (Thairoj Puangmanee 2554: 46)

Bun Luang Festival

          The Bun Luang tradition and the Phi Ta Khon are not observed on fixed dates.  The exact dates are changed from year to year depending on when Chao Por Guan is possessed by the protective spirits.  The festival dates are after that.  They generally like to have the event for 3 days.  On the first day, or the “home day,” they invite Phra Uphakhut to come forth.  A Brahmin type of ordination is performed for Por San and a few local Brahmins so that their Brahmin representatives can go and invite Phra Uphakhut, from the Mun River, to come to Wat Phon Chai.  Next is the bai si su khwan (protective ritual) for Chao Por Guan and Chao Mae Nong Tiam.

          On Day 2, the Vessantara is carried in a parade which proceeds through town to Wat Phon Chai.  Chao Por Guan leads the Por San party, the local residents and the Phi Ta Khon group.  Offerings for the monks are carried from Por Guan’s house to the temple.  In the afternoon, they hold a su khwan dedicated to Vessantara in Por Guan’s front yard, and then parade the Buddha image, symbolically representing Vessantara, to town.  Then Por San and the folks invite Chao Por Guan to sit on top of the rocket to be paraded around the main hall of the temple.  The last ritual is to ignite the rocket to venerate Phaya Thaen.

          On Day 2, the Mahachat Sermon, 13 Chapters in all, are started very early.  Wat Phon Chai holds some other prayer chanting sessions too – the Sum Ha, the Sut Krathong and the Jump Khao Jump King.  Lumps of sticky rice are pressed on the body before they are dropped in the krathong (leaf containers).  Four monks are invited to perform the chanting rituals of asking for forgiveness (for past wrongdoings), warding off bad luck and bringing luck instead.  Cooked foods and sweetmeats are put in the krathong as alms, and for driving away misfortunes as well as prolonging the life of the city.

          The Phi Ta Khon actually used to be just the fun part of the Bun Luang.  In recent years, however, this activity has been promoted by the Loei Province, with the result that visitors and participants are more interested in its colorful parades and fun play rather than in  the merit-making tradition itself.

          The origin of the Phi Ta Khon derived from the wisdom of the Dan Sai’s forefathers.  In those days, they simply wished to end the festival by providing some kind of fun for the children.  Ghost stories were always intriguing for children.  So for the purpose, grown-ups picked the last episode of the Ten Past Lives of the Buddha.  Vessantara was invited to return home, and all the well-wishing spirits inhabiting the forest accompanied him back.  Once in the city, they wandered everywhere – so excited because they had never been in such a place before.  The presence of ugly apparitions and their menacing gestures certainly frightened the townspeople.  But eventually after they left and returned to the forest, these benevolent ghosts took away with them the ills and woes and misfortunes.  (Thanya Buarapha 2556: 12)

          The Phi Ta Khon Noi masks and costumes are made by the Dan Sai residents themselves.  Children and grown-ups need time to make the costumes and accessories.  The elaborate masks especially requires at least 15 days to make.  The common practice is to form groups among the fellow folks in order to join hands for the task.  Different group design and make their own group costumes and masks.  So a kind of unity among kins and friends is quite apparent when the groups walk in the parade.  (Thairoj Puangmanee 2554: 59)

          In time past, nobody kept the masks after the event was over.  But people no longer adhere to this practice.  “Those days, the masks would have been thrown into the Mun River.  Things have changed.  The masks are now kept, and will be used again next year, or even sold as decoration pieces.”  (Thairoj Puangmanee 2554: 56)

          In addition to the Phi Ta Khon, there are several other fun activities and games to entertain the people who have come for the event.  (See details in Thairoj Puangmanee 2554: 52-55)

          Since 1987, the Phi Ta Khon Festival of Amphoe Dan Sai has been designated by TAT as a tourist destination.  The residents in general have responded positively to this new trend.  The Phi Ta Khon play which used to be part of the ritual, therefore, has been adapted to cater for tourists.  There are, for example, oral scenes, contests, and other changes with regard to the players, props, activities and venues.  However, there have been no changes in the ancient ritual, and the participants are still 2 separate groups – those  performing the ritual, and those doing the cultural shows.

          Chao Por Guan Thavorn Chueabunmee (2559) has the opinion that the changes that have taken place and the role of some government offices in this merit-making event of Dan Sai people have no adverse impacts on the Chao Por Guan and Mae Nang Tiam ritual because it is an isolated one.  The official promotion has made the festival more famous, and the number of visitors and tourists has increased.  The number of young Phi Ta Khon also increases yearly and the “Phi” themselves become more fanciful and spectacular.  Yet all these changes still conform to the original norm this time-honored tradition.


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