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PHI TA KHON FESTIVAL

JUNE
Dan Sai District, Loei District and Province

A HAPPY GATHERING OF FUN-LOVING SPIRITS

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 CELEBRATIONS AND FOLK LEGENDS

The Phi Ta Khon festivities are part of the "Boon Luang" merit-making ceremony, the most important of the local celebrations. In the village of Dan Sai, the residents have combined two key festivals into one - namely the Boon Phra Wate religious ceremony and festival of the fourth month with the Boon Bung Fai - the festival of the sixth lunar month, also known as the Bamboo Rocket Festival.
Merit-making is central to the Boon Phra Wate ceremony with villagers congregating at the temple to listen to a total of 13 Buddhist sermons. It is believed that by participating in the Boon Phra Wate merit-making rituals, in their next life, followers will be brought closer to Lord Sri-Araya - the future Buddha. While the Boon Bung Fai ritual is performed in an act of worshipping the guardian spirits of the village and to ask for sufficient rain to arrive in time for the coming farming season.
Wan Home - Day of the Gathering of Spirits
During the invocation ritual, white pebbles symbolic of Phra Upakud are collected from the river bed, consecrated and taken back to Phon-chai Temple where sacred rituals are performed in honour of Phra Upakud, a Buddha image associated with rainmaking rituals.
On the first day of worship known as the Wan Home - day of the gathering of spirits, activities begin between 03:00 and 04:00 before dawn breaks. The villagers assemble and a procession sets off from Phon-chai Temple heading for the Mun River. There, before the sun rises, an invocation ritual is performed calling upon a revered spirit known as Phra Upakud who is symbolized by white marble. According to the local legend, Phra Upakud is a monk with supernatural powers. Having reached the highest level of meditation, he attained eternal life and was endowed with the power to assume any physical or spiritual form he chose. He opted to transform himself into white marble and sought to live in complete solitude in a peaceful environment in the waters of the Mun River. With these supernatural powers, the villagers believed that only Phra Upakud is able to protect the village from evil spirits. During the invocation ritual, white pebbles symbolic of Phra Upakud are collected from the river bed, consecrated and taken back to Phon-chai Temple where sacred rituals are performed in his honour.
The local villagers then assemble to perform the "Bai Sri Su Kwan" ritual to pay their respects to Chao Por Kuan, the guardian spirit of the community. Thereafter the festive celebrations begin with the 'spirits' enjoying a grand feast accompanied by Isan-style festivities. The opening ceremony of the Phi Ta Khon festival is held later in the afternoon at the Dan Sai District School.
At dawn on the second day, local villagers dress in Phi Ta Khon costumes and participate in the colourful masked dance for which the village is famous. In the afternoon, the Phra Wate procession commences with a group of Saen and villagers carrying the offerings and ceremonial items including an image of Lord Buddha, and four monks. While Chao Por Kuan is seated on a bamboo rocket affixed on a colourful decorated float accompanied by Chao Mae Nang Tiam and Nang Taeng.
Later in the day, the bamboo rockets are launched into the sky in the hope of bringing rain.
In the early morning of the third and final ceremonial day, the villagers return to the temple to listen to Buddhist sermons for one last time. This marks the close of Dan Sai's most important festival in the year.
There is another account of the origins of this folk tradition. The story is set around the Wat Phra That Sri Song Rak Temple, an ancestral site and place of worship that has long been a revered landmark of the Dan Sai community. The monument signifies a pledge of friendship and co-operation between the ancient kingdoms of Siam and Lao. According to local folklore, a couple deeply in love were forced apart by their families. They soon eloped and sought refuge in a tunnel where donations made to the Wat Phra That Sri Song Rak temple were stored. One day, the entrance to the tunnel was sealed. The couple was trapped inside. United in death, the couple became the guardian spirits of the community known as Chao Por Kuan and Chao Mae Nang Tiem. Over time, many more spirits came to serve the venerable guardian spirits. When the season for merit-making rituals comes around, the spirits emerge to take part in the procession of the Phra Upakud, the Buddha image associated with rainmaking rituals. The date of the festival is set by the appearance of the Chao Por Kuan and Chao Mae Nang Tiem guardian spirits before the village medium during a trance.

PROGRAMME

DAY 1

03.00
The Phra Upakud procession moves from Phon-chai Temple to the Mun River where the invocation ritual is performed. Consecrated pebbles are taken from the Mun River back to Wat Phon-chai Temple where they are used in a ritual.
08.30
A Bai Sri ritual is performed at Chao Por Kuan's residence to summon the spirits
10.00
"Wan Home - Day of the gathering of spirits ceremony" is performed at Phon-chai Temple
13.00
Phi Ta Khon Dance Contest - Preliminary round
18.00
Cultural performances and stage drama at Phon-chai Temple
DAY 2

08.00
Spirits' assemble at the Ban Dan Sai District School for the Phi Ta
Khon Parade
10:00
The Boon Luang Opening Ceremony and Phi Ta Khon performance
at Dan Sai District Office
Phi Ta Khon Parade
13.00
Final round of the Phi Ta Khon Dance Contest
15:00
Prince Vessandara (pronounced Phra Wate-San-Dorn) and Bang Fai
Bamboo Rockets Processions to Phon-chai Temple
19:00
Buddhist sermons at Phon-chai Temple
Day 3

04:00
Buddhist sermons at Phon-Chai Temple
08:00
Town purification ritual at Phon-Chai Temple
09:00
The procession of Khan Lon from Chao Por Kuan's residence to Phon-chai Temple
Day 1-2

09.00 - 17.00

PHI TA KHON EXHIBITION AND DEMONSTRATION
At Wat Phon-Chai temple

FOOD AND OTOP PRODUCTS FAIR
In front of the District Office

For your shopping pleasure, there will be many souvenir items and memorabilia of the festival, especially Phi Ta Khon masks including ceramic ones, and a variety of local handicrafts and products promoted under the "One Village One Product" or OTOP campaign.

HOW TO MAKE PHI TA KHON MASKS

phitakhonmaskerThe Phi Ta Khon mask is a traditional folk craft unique to the Dan Sai area in Loei province. Although subject to the maker's imagination and creative interpretation, each mask adheres to the traditional Phi Ta Khon style.
The Phi Ta Khon mask consists of three major components: the hat, the face and nose.
The hat is made from a traditional bamboo container used for steaming glutinous (sticky) rice known as huad. The huad is folded up like a hat so it fits on the head. The face element of the mask is made from a coconut leaf sheath with small openings cut for the eyes. The nose is made from soft wood. In the past, the nose was relatively simple. However over the years, it has evolved and features elaborate shapes and details. Occasionally two horns made from dried coconut lobes are also added to the mask.
The various elements are assembled together with the use of strings and nails. The mask is then painted in elaborate designs and striking colours. To complete each mask, narrow shoulder-length strips of cloth are sewn together and glued to the back of the mask.


Contact information:

LOEI TOURISM CO-ORDINATOR CENTER
Tel: 0-4281-2812, 0-4281-1405
Fax: 0-4281-1480
TAT NORTHERN OFICE: REGION 5
Phone : 0-4232-5406 to 7
Fax : 0-4232--5408
e-mail : tatudon@esan.inet.co.th

DESTINATION HIGHLIGHTS - QUICK REFERENCE

Loei is a border town adjacent to present-day Laos, formerly known as the Lan Xang Kingdom in the past. Many of the temples and archaeological sites in Loei thus reflect the influence of the Lan Xang artistic style, particularly the sloping roof covered with wooden tiles commonly found in Loei. Other distinctive features can be seen in the Ubosot or ordination hall and the Viharn, the assembly hall.

PHRA THAT SI SONG RAK STUPA
The temple which was built in 1560 is of special significance as it symbolizes the fraternal relationship between two kings, namely Somdet Phra Maha Chakkaphat of the Ayutthaya Kingdom and Phra Chao Chaiya Chetthathirat of the Lan Xang Kingdom, who took a pledge of peace at the stupa that neither would encroach on the other's territory, and to unify their forces against the invading army.
The Lan-Xang style stupa is located on a hill by the Man River and marks the borderline between the two kingdoms. The stupa is a 30-metres high brick-and-concrete structure in the shape of a "cubical lotus", similar to the Phra That Phanom stupa in Nakhon Phanom Province, Phrat That Luang in Vientianne and other such stupas found along the banks of the Mekong River.

• WAT PHO CHAI TEMPLE

The temple was built in the late Ayutthaya period and has served as the town's sanctuary and moral refuge for generations.
Assumed to be of the Chiang Saen period, the temple houses a magnificent statue depicting the meditating Buddha with an elongated face and a flamboyant top-knot. The mural paintings in the Viharn or assembly hall depict the Jataka, the ten previous lives of the Lord Buddha. An inscription on the northern wall suggests that the mural paintings were completed in 1852 during the reign of King Rama IV. Mural paintings on the outer walls of the viharn were completed in 1916.

• PHRA THAT SATCHA STUPA
Phra That Satcha literally means the temple of truthful pledge.
One year following the collapse of the Phra That Phanom in Nakhon Phanom, considered to be the most revered Buddhist stupa in Northeastern Thailand, this 33-metre high stupa was constructed on a large rocky foundation.
Modelled after the original Phra That Phanom, the Phra That Satcha was constructed to continue the religious symbolism represented by the original stupa in Nakhon Phanom. This helped to heal the sense of loss following the tragic collapse of the original stupa and re-proclaimed the pledge to preserve Buddhism in the region.
Relics of the Lord Buddha and his followers and soil from the original Phra That Phanom were consecrated within the new stupa. A gilded Buddha's footprint is housed within the stupa.

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