Illuminated Boat Procession

Nakhon Phanom
18 October 2021

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Illuminated Boat Procession

Lai Ruea Fai, or the Illuminated Boat Procession, originates from the northeastern or Isan region of Thailand, specifically Nakhon Phanom. The festival–this year, taking place from October 18th to 22nd–marks the end of the Buddhist Rains Retreat, also known as Buddhist Lent.

Due to recent COVID-19 measures (🇹🇭), this year’s event will confine activities to those deemed true to the essence of the festival, curtailing the more commercial and festive aspects of the celebration.

Buddha’s Footprint

The beginning and end of the Buddhist Rains Retreat are referred to as Khao Phansa and Ok Phansa, respectively, meaning to “enter Vassa” and “exit Vassa.” In Buddhist lore, Ok Phansa marks Gautama Buddha’s descent from Trayastrimsa heaven, where he spent the entire three-month period converting his mother to Buddhism.

However, the festival’s connection with the Mekong River is based upon a completely separate tale. As the story goes, the mythical Naga serpents invited Buddha to preach Buddhism in their underwater palaces. Afterwards, he was asked to place his footprint at the mouth of India’s Narmada River. The procession is held to worship the sacred footprint, as the Naga holds cultural significance to the peoples of the Isan region.

According to folklore, the Mekong River is believed to be one of the places where the Naga reside. Locals, therefore, use this opportunity to honor the river, which is a significant part of Thai culture, and repent for any wrongdoing.

Celebrations in Nakhon Phanom

Source: Warinezz / Shutterstock.com

To mark the occasion, the 12 districts of Nakhon Phanom decorate boats with flowers, incense, hand-carved candles, and lanterns and launch them on the Mekong River in the evening, illuminating the river in one of the Kingdom’s most picturesque festivals.

This year, the Lai Ruea Fai show will be held without the usual long-tail boating races or merchant caravans, while the traditional Phra That Phanom worship dance will be performed with adequate social distancing. Strict screening measures, as well as a maximum event capacity of 100 visitors, will be implemented to ensure the safety of everyone participating in the fair.

Lai Ruea Fai Boran

Nowadays, the illuminating boat utilizes candle lights to paint an image related to buddhism, mythical creatures, or even the monarch. Historically, though, the boats were made of bamboo or banana tree trunks, as the boats are lit on fire. The practice is now referred to as Lai Ruea Fai Boran, or the Traditional Illuminated Boat Procession (🇹🇭).

During the ancestral custom, villagers and tourists are invited to place their hair or nails on the boat, believing it would burn and wash the sorrow away. The blazing fire also symbolizes the impermanent nature of life, where it’s destined to end, similarly to the wavering flame. 

COVID-19 Disclaimer: The activities described here may be suspended due to movement and gathering restrictions as prescribed by COVID-19 health precautions.

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