4. BounPimai Festival
BounPimai is one of the most important annual festivals (particularly in LuangPrabang) to celebrate Lao New Year which takes place in the middle of the hot summer season, in April (13-15).
The first month of the Lao New Year is actually December but festivities are delayed until April when days are longer than nights. The New Year celebration lasts three days. During the New Year, the Lao believe that the old spirit of Songkran leaves this plane, making way for anew one.
The first day, also known as MahaSongkran, is considered the last day of the old year. Lao will clean their houses and villages on this day, and prepare water, perfume, and flowers for the days ahead. The second day is called the “day of no day” when it is neither part of the old year nor of the New Year. The New Year really starts at the third day which is known as Wan Thaloeng.
During BounPimai Festival, water pouring ceremonies play a big part. At each temple, monks will provide the water, as well as blessing for the devotes flocking to the temples and the white baisri strings, which they will tie around devotees’ wrists.
People also get soaked during Bun Pi Mai – people respectfully pour water on monks and elders, and less reverently on each other! Foreigners are not exempt from this treatment – if you’re in Laos during Bun Pi Mai, do expect to be soaked by passing teenagers, who’ll give you the wet treatment from buckets of water, hoses, or high-pressure water guns.
Other events in Luang Prabang include an annual Nangsoukhane beauty pageant, nightly parties with traditional Lao music and circle dancing, and parades throughout the city. In some of these parades, three outlandishly-dressed figures play leading roles. The two red-faced toothy heads are called Grandfather and Grandmother Nyeu, guardians of the environment and venerated by the people. The lion-headed figure is called Sing Kaew Sing Kham, and he may be an old-time King.
5. Boun Bang Fai Festival
Traditionally, the rocket festival is the sixth Lunar month ceremony that Lao people have conducted for many generation(s). It is a very important event that we could not abandon since the early period of time. It is also the important symbol of unity and friendship used to fight against dry weather and to request rain.
Even though, belief in the rain god is less now than in former times, the Lao still respect this tradition and continue to prepare the rocket festival as one of the most significant activities that takes place before of the season of rice cultivation. In addition to the preparation of rockets, there are some Buddhist ceremonies such as water blessing rituals that the senior monks perform at the same event.
The Rocket festival is the only annual chance the farmers have to request rain from the god called Phaya Thaen. Because of the strong belief held since ancient times, when the land was dry and farmers did not have enough water for rice production. So the rocket festival was instituted.
It is the one means for human beings to communicate symbolically with the god to request rain.
6. Khao Phansa Festival
This festival marks the beginning of the traditional three month “rains retreat” during which Buddhist monks are expected to station themselves in a single monastery. It begins at the full moon in July and continues until the full moon in October and all ends with the Kathin ceremony in October when monks receive gifts. During time of festival, monks are not allowed to travel everywhere or revert.
According to legend Buddha’s followers did not stop their wandering during the rainy season, that made people complain about their trampling on the rice field and damaging seedlings or small creatures in the fields. When the Buddha heard these worries he forbade the monks to stay in their temples for three months.
During this time devout people often abstain from alcohol. They pray for assistance and guidance to encourage merit and happiness in their lives. It encourages them to follow the five major Buddhist precepts: don’t kill animals; don’t steal or engage in corrupt acts; don’t commit adultery; don’t lie’ and avoid drinking alcohol. They also offer robes to the monks.
Early the morning of Boun Khao Phansa people prepare donations of food (particularly kaoton, rice, banana or pork wrapped in banana leaves) and necessities like soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes and towels for the monks. Most temples are very busy during this time with people making merit and giving their donations. At the end of these merit- making activities, the monks will recite the teachings of Buddha and tell the history of Lent to temple goers. Later in the evening, monks, novices and lay people bring flowers and candles and walk around the central temple three times.
Lent ends on the full moon in October the Kathin ceremony when monks receive gifts. These are the most usual months for ordination and for men to enter the monkhood for short periods before they marry and are marked by numerous ordination ceremonies.
(to be continued)
For more information about festivals in Laos, please visit our website.