The festivals in Thailand never fail to amaze the innumerable tourists that flock in from all over the world. These colourful festivals provide a glimpse into the country's rich culture and heritage. Being a part of these events are surely a delight. The Rocket Festival is one of such festivals, a highlight of Thailand.
When is the Rocket Festival Celebrated?
The Rocket Festival is usually celebrated on the weekends in the middle of May, just before the start of the crop plantation period (the rainy season). When: Friday, May 3, 2019 - Tuesday, May 7, 2019 Where: Rocket Festival in Thailand Phaya Thaen park, Yasothon
What is the Bun Bang Fai Festival?
Locally known as the Bun Bang Fai Festival, this ancient festival is a merit-making ceremony which involves firing home-made rockets towards the heavens to captivate the rain gods and hope for a good monsoon season before the crop plantations take place. Celebrated in Thailand's northeastern region, with its most significant commemorations in Yasothon, the festival is a treat for your eyes. The first celebration of this festival dates back centuries ago and is still widely celebrated, which is proof enough of how Thai's treat their culture with the utmost respect.
History of Rocket Fest
The festival is presumed to be evolved from Buddhist fertility rituals which were held to celebrate the coming of the monsoon season. The festival also reflects elements of Lao folk culture. Observed just before the crop plantation period begins, the festival is a sign to make merry before beginning the hard word. Even today, scholars study the tradition of old rocket festival as it may play a significant role to the history of rocket festivals in the East, and might also be of importance in the socio-economic and development of Southeast Asia.
The final day begins with the usual dance performances and shows, but the most critical event is the launching of the rockets. In this event, villagers light up their homemade bamboo rockets which roar into the skies. The locals then pray for abundant rainfall. The final day also commences the rocket launching competition wherein a panel of judges take into consideration the beauty of the rockets and how far into the sky it travels. The rockets which misfire are disqualified, and its owner is either thrown into a puddle of mud or covered entirely in it. In addition to it being a punishment in good taste, it also serves as a safety function as mud is said to reduce the severity of burns which might have been caused due to the misfire. This reminds the participants and watchers that the festival is not only about fun and games, but it can also get dangerous at times too. So precautions must be duly taken before one participates in the competitions.
What first started as a simple rocket launching event has now evolved into a famous festival. So rockets are not just carved out of bamboo and presented to the judges, it is mounted on giant carts with spinning wheels to boost its beauty and power. There are a plethora of rockets of different size and firepower, ranging from 1 kg to 120 kg.
Throughout this three-day event, visitors can feast their eyes on parades happening across different villages, skies filling up with several beautiful rockets and be thrilled by the competitions that take place. There are different types of rocket shootings, starting with the auspicious inaugural rocket, popularly known as Bang Fai.
Given that it's a fertility festival, the festivities also involve dirty humour and cross-dressing. Both cross-generational and cross-sex dressing can be seen in a stretch of 3 days. This is also a time when large quantities of alcohol are consumed by the villagers. Sura, the most popular beverage in the village has a 40% alcohol content and is cheaper than beer is consumed widely during this period. The festival also has other beautiful highlights. Workshops are teaching visitors how to make a Bang Fai rocket. Take part in the workshop to learn about the craft of carving a masterpiece out of bamboo.
How is the Bun Bang Fai Rocket Festival Celebrated?
On the first day of the festival, villagers pay respect to the city's pillar shrine by bringing their local made rockets made up of bamboo. This is then followed by dances and performances which continue until the festival gets over, after two days. This is of great fun for the locals but might not pique the interest of the outsiders. But ask questions to and get involved to soak all the culture in and make the most of your time in this 3-day festival.
Street parades and traditional dance with live music commences on the second day of the festival with a bang. It is both amusing and fascinating to watch musicians in a cart with electric guitars connected to car batteries ready to play some music for the visitors in full volume! The performances are followed by a Buddhist merit-making ceremony, after which the locals bring in their bright and vibrantly decorated rockets mounted on equally beautiful and traditional oxcarts. Most of the rockets are for show and not for flight. People compete in groups, and the winners take home prizes according to the categories. Lookout for people sporting the Nagas masks, which are equipped with water swivels as they might squirt water on you. Fret not, as this is all part of the celebration.
Legends Behind the Bun Bang Fai Rocket Festival
The legend of Phadaeng, Nang Ai and Pangkhi This famous legend of Nang Ai, the most beautiful queen of the pageant, Phadaeng, an outsider who won her heart and Phangkhi is a story of the love triangle that resulted in a war. Phangkhi and Nang Ai are said to have been destined to be soul mates in every life due to their karma. Nang Ai prays not to be paired with Phadaeng when she gets fed up of Phangkhi’s selfish desires. Phadaeng is expected to win the Rocket Festival tournament to win her hand, but the whole thing was called off after Phadaeng lost the tournament and Nang Ai’s uncle won it. Phangkhi was also invited to the tournament but was spying as a white squirrel on Nang Ai and was caught and killed while doing so. The body of Phangkhi transformed into 8000 cartloads of flesh which was eaten away by the countrymen. This led to the rage of Phaya Nak, Father of Phangkhi and the Naga King and he waged war on the surface of the land turning everything into a marsh.
The Myth of the Toad King In Buddhist Mythology Phaya Khang Khok, The Toad King is believed to be a Bodhisattva incarnation of Lord Buddha. When The Toad King got married to Udon Khuruthawip, the sermons were so extravagant that they drew all the creatures and sky-dwellers. Phaya Thaen got furious that the sky-dwellers went away from him and stopped the rains for Seven years Seven months and Seven days. Naga King declared war on the Sky King against the advice of Toad King and lost. Toad king assumed the command and brought together all creatures and waged war on the Sky King. The war was won, and Phaya Thaen came in peace. The Rockets fired every year at the end of the summer to remind the Phaya Thaen of his treaty and to shower the earth with the Life-giving rain. To catch a glimpse of a festival never witnessed before, head to the Rocket Festival in Thailand for its beauty and uniqueness and celebrate as the Thais do.