Ghost Festival (Phi Ta Khon) – A joyous and colourful celebration of life!

Veena Thoopkajae

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Ghost Festival (Phi Ta Khon) – A joyous and colourful celebration of life!

Centuries ago, Prince Vessantara (Buddha in his previous life), embarked on a journey and didn’t return for a long time. Subsequently, his followers grew tired and gave up on any hope of his arrival. However, he did return, alive and well, sparking celebrations so wild and rambunctious, that it was said to have awakened the dead.

This celebration of Buddha’s return marked the birth of the Phi Ta Khon Festival, which is presently one of the biggest and scariest festivals in Thailand. The three-day annual festival is held in the Dan Sai, Loei province in Thailand between June and July.

The three-day event entails a trident of festivals, collectively known as the Bun Luang. Held on the first day of the event, the Wan Ruam features the main Phi Ta Khon festival which involves a dazzling display of various creative costumes parading the streets, accompanied by music and cheering noise from jovial crowds. 

On the second day, a procession representing the return of Prince Vessantara is held. His welcome is greeted with bamboo rockets which are launched to entice the weather gods to deliver a bountiful rainy season for a successful harvest.

On the third and final day, locals gather at the temple where they listen to monks recite the 13 sermons of Vessantara in his previous life.

The Phi Ta Khon festival is dominated by ubiquitous but yet intimating and ghost-like handmade costumes. There are a variety of colourful zombie and ghost-like attires and masks worn by festival-goers as they parade and party through the streets of the Dan Sai district. These masks are often made from bamboo sticky rice steaming baskets and are meticulously hand-painted in an array of enticing colours.

Most costumes feature a massive phallus that is intricately blended into the masks to represent a distinct feature or object, such as a sword or cannon. This huge depiction of phalluses symbolises fertility. These masks come in a variety of shapes, colours and sizes and are characterised by exquisite painting and remarkable designs, which is a testament to the incredible craftsmanship of its makers.

Annually, the Dan Sai, Loei province hosts one of the scariest, thrilling and vibrant ghost festivals that you will ever attend. Despite its mysterious and boisterous nature, the Phi Ta Khon festival is best witnessed than imagined.

Veena Thoopkajae

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