Phi Ta Khon, the way of life and culture of Dan Sai, Loei
Every stories and cultures have their own story and pass on from one generation to generations. Mostly are tied in and is part of the way of their life and become a belief, fate, tradition which is penetrated within any arts, performances for that place. And here we would like to suggest one of the traditions and beliefs of Loei’s people is “Phi Ta Khon” or the “Ghost festival” that is one of Thai festival which is very unique and fill up with the stories.
About the Ghost Festival
Phi Ta Khon or the “Ghost Festival” is one of remarkable Thai tradition and has been existing for a long time with no any mark of period of time. It is a kind of thing that the people of Loei have done and taken from their parentage. This is a very significant festive event and there is one and only in the world! This festival is taken place annually at Wat Pon Chai (Temple) where is an attractive feast to invite people from everywhere to visit a small town in the Loei province.
Phi Ta Khon is annual tradition of Loei and is a Shan tradition (Shan or Tai is an ethnic tribe in northern of Thailand) called “Boun Luang” that is the combination of “Pha Vet” in local language, is an event to give a sermon of Vessantara Jataka also known as the Great Birth sermon (the story tells about one of Lord Buddha’s past lives contains 13 chapters which is one of the most popular reincarnation of Theravada Buddhism), and “Boun Bung Fai” or the Rocket Festival”. This event is taken place in the seventh month following the lunar system at Dan Sai, Loei province in northeastern of Thailand. The feast is organized to worship for the sacred things in this province such as Phra That Sri Song Rak, City shrine, and the passed rulers of the city.
History of Phi Ta Khon: Ghost Festival
The history is when prince Vessantara (one of the past lives of Buddha Gautama) and princess Maddi were coming back from a forest to the city, there were many of ghosts and creatures in the wood were attached to them. So that they conceal themselves among the people to bid farewell to them.
And another story is about the entertainment to appease a spirit of ancestors who become any sacred spirits who protect the city what can make whether abundance or disaster. Thus, giving peace and please to the spirits, the residents organize the Phi Ta Khon festival and join in the parade of “Boun Luang” to Wat Pon Chai, Dan Sai, Loei province as the way to make a good deed.
What do they do on 3 days?
Phi Ta Khon festival is one of the important event related to the religious in this area so that it will be totally 3 days for the feast are;
This is the day the residents are gathered to build the Upagubta Tower (Upagubta is one of the Buddhism monk who is famous among the upper territory of Southeast Asia). And they will make some tiny banana leaf baskets and put down in the corner following the 4 directions. Upper top of the tower there are big umbrella as a symbolic that the ceremony is started.
This is the day to respectfully engage the Upagubta. There are many dwellers from many villages be gathered at the venue and mostly are bringing their rockets. Besides, there are plenty of amusements at the venue including the parade of Phi Ta Khon or Ghost parade with the traditional folk music along the way to the temple for a “Bai Sri Su Kwan” or traditional welcome ceremony. In the parade, there are Phi Ta Khon dance and move joyfully. They will release the costume and any instruments into the river after finish the parade as it will get rid of any suffer and bad things, and will start all over again in the next year.
This is the merit day which the residents are going to the temple for making merit and will listen to the great sermon of Vessantara Jataka about 13 chapters totally start from the early morning. They believe that this will purify their mind and will get a numerous fruit of merit. The local people believe that whoever is able to listen to all chapters of the great sermon of Vessantara Jataka within a day they will reach a high virtue that can support to see Maitreya whom the next Buddha in their next life. However, there is no Phi Ta Khon performed today but there is a making merit for the ancestors including to paying respect to the sacred things in the temple or the relic of Buddha.
Type of Phi Ta Khon
There are 2 types are by following;
Phi Ta Khon Yai or Big Ghost
It is the model made from the weaving bamboo and covered with cloth or paper with double in size from ordinary human. Grand Phi Ta Khon is decorated by any materials from local which presenting the gender obviously. This is the belief since long time ago that a sexual organ of human presenting an abundance and is not impolite or prank. And there is only a couple of Grand Phi Ta Khon to be made to join in the parade per year and whom to play this character have to be allow from the ghost or the spirit first and have to do every year or at least 3 years continuously.
Phi Ta Khon Lek or Little Ghost
It is the amusement of the dwellers that whoever is able to join in is adults or children, male or female and the costume is similar like the Big Ghost. Anyway, mostly are male because the acting tends to be daringly and impetuously.
Phi Ta Khon is a kind of bizarre for Thai tradition from using coconut leaf stalk and decorated to become a mask with eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. A sticky rice stew is used by push it to sunken and turnup. And then the player will put it on their head and colored it for more attractive. For the costume, it is made by stitched shred.
Phi Ta Khon Mask
“Phi Ta Khon mask” is a highlight of this festival. It is a symbolic to communicate the meaning of this tradition and a way of life for local residents. And the design of the mask is very unique in art and valuable to maintain.
Furthermore, there are 2 more equipment for this are “Mark Ka Laeng”, or a local cowbell to shake during marching and “the Weapon” of Phi Ta Khon which is a wooden sword. By the way it is not for fight but using to play and stab to the ladies’ bottom. Of course, they will run away with a scream that make a lot of fun and laugh without any angriness. And the reason to ran away from it because the sword is look like a male sexual organ or small phallic sculpture plus highlight with a red color.
However, it is not impolite of playing with this but also it makes a lot of fun and joy for the participants of the festival. This is from the belief that if playing joyful and presenting any of sexual organ in the ceremony will make Phraya Tan to be satisfy and the rain will be on seasonal and abundance of food and plants.
Presently, Phi Ta Khon is not only a local tradition at Dan Sai, Loei that is noteworthy to maintain for the next generations to learn about it and as the cultural heritage of the community, but also this will enhance the tourism to be attractive for the tourist to come to visit this province as well.