If you thought India is the only country celebrating the Festival of Lights – Diwali, then I am afraid you are mistaken. Far away in the East, nestled between prominent countries like China, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, lies a country gone unnoticed in the map – Laos. Considered by many to be the most laidback country of the East, Laos surely knows how to bask in the glory of nature and express gratitude in the form of festivals, one of them being Boun Awk Phansa.
Boun Awk Phansa
Three lunar months after Khao Phansa, on the 15th day of the 11th month of the lunar calendar. Interesting trivia for the day: Khao Phansa marks the beginning of the three-month Buddhist Lent.
Any story behind this festival?
There always is one, isn’t there? Boun Awk Phansa marks the End of Buddhist Lent or the Monsoon Retreat. Legend has it that Lord Buddha retreated to heaven to visit his mother who died within seven days of his birth. After a three-month sejour at the heavens, he returned to Earth only to be greeted by his loved ones. Another lore describes the lent followed by Buddhist monks for three months. Monks stay in monasteries during the monsoons and abstain themselves from social activities until the withdrawal of the monsoons.
How is it celebrated today?
On the eve of Boun Awk Phansa, families walk along River Mekong carrying small handmade floats called ‘Krathong’ made from banana leaves and decorated with flowers, incense and candles. On the banks of the river, they wishfully pray and let go of their misfortunes by letting the Krathong drift silently into the river. The following morning, Buddhist monks dressed in bright orange robes are welcomed by locals who take a day off to unconditionally serve the monks. Dressed in new traditional clothes, they offer cooked sticky rice, banana wrapped steamed goods, packaged rice crackers, juice boxes, etc. to the monks. And for once, the locals outnumber the tourists on the road.
The festivity continues with boat races where both men and women participate. The boat races held on River Mekong in Vientiane is the most spectacular of all! Every village owns a dragon-shaped boat that requires a minimum of 50 paddlers. It is celebrated in the honour of the Naga – the river dragon who is believed to dwell in the silent waters of Mekong. The villagers pay their respects to the deity for protecting them and providing them with abundant water resources. The celebration comes to an end by releasing bright lanterns into the night, which psychologically helps people remove all negative emotions clouding their spirit. Surely a nice way to get the demons out of your head!