Festival of Lights
Buddhism is a religion of many festivals and our volunteers were lucky enough to experience one of the most beautful festivals last week.
The day after Awk Pansaa – the end of Buddhist Lent – is a beautiful festival known as Lai Heaua Fai. This festival is thought to have originated from traditional ceremonies that paid homage to river and water divinities. This rite has several aims. One is in homage to the river, especially the Mekong River. It is also to ask the river and all divinities inhabiting it for forgiveness for disrespect or misuse of its water. It is also believed to be a way to send away all negativity such as sickness, bad luck, shortcoming and failure.
It is celebrated all over Laos, however the ceremony in Luang Prabang is spectacular. The town’s residents light their homes with stars, candles, lights and paper star lanterns. Every family makes a small river float using the trunk of a banana tree which is wrapped in banana leaves. This is then decorated with flowers, incense, candles and sometimes food and money is put on for good luck. These floats are also available to purchase from street stalls in the days leading up to the festival. This year some of our volunteers made their own floats at the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre which made the ceremony even more special. The floats are carried to the banks of the Mekong River where they light the candles, say prayers and send the boat of light floating away. The sight of thousands of boats of light with their twinkling candles on the Mekong River is very moving.
In addition to the thousands of candle floats that are made each village and temple make a “boat of light” in homage to Buddha. These boats are made out of bamboo and are decorated with coloured paper, money, lights and candles. They become more elaborate each year and can take different shapes like dragons. Each boat is then brought into the centre of town to Wat Mai where a procession starts down the main road towards the Mekong River and the 16th century temple, Wat Xien Thong. The boats are accompanied by villagers dancing, singing, playing instruments, children walking with lanterns, this year there was even a fire breather! Once at the beautiful 16th century temple, the boats are lined up and a jury awards prizes to the most beautiful boats. The monks After that, one by one, the boats are brought down the staircases of Wat Xieng Thong to the Mekong. Then they are delicately put on the water and floated down the Mekong River among thousands of small individual banana leaf skiffs in a breathtaking sea of lights.
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