The Naga Fireball festival is a unique and fascinating festival celebrated in Thailand. In this festival, people gather along a certain 250 km stretch of the Mekong river, to witness glowing red 'fireballs' shoot up into the sky. The number of fireballs sighted can range from hundreds to thousands. The local people attribute this phenomenon to the mythical 'Phaya Nak', a giant serpent which they believe resides within the river.
Naga Fireball Festival 2020 Dates
For 2020, the festival is expected to start on 23rd October. This phenomenon occurs around the end or after the end of the 'Buddhist Lent' period. This is usually in the period of mid to late October and early November each year.
Where Will the Naga Fireball Festival Be Held?
The festival will be held over a week in the two neighbouring towns of Phon Phisai and Nong Khai, running along the Mekong River in northern Thailand.
What is the Naga Fireball Festival?
The phenomenon of Naga Fireballs is a dazzling spectacle shrouded in myth and science. On a late October or early November night, thousands of red glowing orbs spring up from the water at the Mekong River rapidly and light up the dark sky for a few seconds before they disappear in thin air. This queer occurring has garnered the interest of scientists and locals for a long time. Both have formed their opinion on it. The locals believe that the lights are supernatural and thus, comes the name Naga Dancing Fireballs (as the locals call the phenomenon). On the other hand, scientists have still not figured out an exact explanation, but they have a few theories which might be causing the explosions underneath the river.
History of the Naga Fireball Festival
For a long time, annually, the fireballs seem to appear very often on a full moon night in the late autumn season. The end of the Buddhist Lent is what the locals call the period. Locals believed that the fireballs are the breath of a gigantic sea serpent called a Naga or Phaya Nak, who lives under the river and wakes up around this time every year to honor the conclusion of the three months long Buddhist Lent or rain retreat season, also called Vassa.
Nagas are described as shape-shifters in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. Whether it is a human form, full serpent or half serpent half human form, the Nagas can take up whatever shape they prefer. The Naga is considered a wealthy deity of the underworld in Thailand. They are regarded as guardians of treasure who reside in the underwater kingdom of Patala-Loka or Naga-Loka, a place beautifully ornamented with precious gems. They are also considered as protectors of the capital city of Laos, Vientiane and as powerful magical beasts in the area of Mekong river.
Naga Fireball Festival in Present Day
In present-day Thailand, the phenomenon is considered a festival and is celebrated widely. People, in large numbers, gather at the bank of the river Mekong, where the phenomenon takes place every time. Before the actual event, the locals celebrate by bursting colourful fireworks, rockets, fireboats, and balloons until the glowing fireballs start shooting from the water. Each fireball is welcomed with a massive roar from the people. It is said that the celebration commemorates the return of Buddha in Naga form.
Scientific Theories on Naga Fireball Festival
Scientists have different explanations for the Naga Fireballs. One of it is that the fireballs are swamp gas, which is formed when pockets of methane are formed due to decomposition of organic material underground. The trapped methane eventually reaches the surface and comes in contact with oxygen-rich air, resulting in a spontaneous ignition and a brief burst of flame, which people call the Naga Fireballs.
Dr.Manos Kanoksilp, a scientist who has studied these oddities, theorizes that precise alignment of the Earth, sun, and moon is required for such an event to happen. And Mekong river provides the necessary conditions, the main reason for why this doesn't happen anywhere else but in Thailand.
Like the swamp gas theory, many believe that the fireballs are a result of a flammable gas - phosphine - which is generated by the marshy environment of the river. This has also been proved in an experiment conducted by the Thai Science Ministry.
Phosphine is a human-made gas and is manufactured for several industrial purposes through a carefully orchestrated chemical process. Thus, it is highly unclear how the process happens naturally.
There are also scientists who claim that the fireballs a free-forming plasma orb, created when electricity is discharged into the river.
For now, it's not clear what causes the phenomenon, but this certainly doesn't stop people from celebrating and admiring the beautiful happenings. So it doesn't matter whether you believe that the magical fireballs are the doing of an underworld serpent awakening to honour the end of Vassa or a result of methane mixing with air, join in the celebrations of the Naga Fireball festival and the accompanied merry-making as this is something rare and not seen in any other parts of the world.