Wednesday, August 15, 2012

แห่เทียน (Hae Thian) - Candle Festival

Asanha Bucha Day is the Buddhist holiday that commemorates the beginning of Khao Pansaa, or Buddhist Lent. Also known as the "Rain Retreat," this is a three-month period where monks are meant to stay inside monastery grounds for a period of study and meditation.

The most famous national celebration, the "Candle Festival," takes place right in my town, Ubon Ratchathani. Weeks in advance, workers prepare downtown Ubon for the event by building structures and cleaning the park. Massive wax sculptures are intricately carved and displayed at the local museum in anticipation of the festival.

Over a week before the holiday (which usually falls at the end of July/beginning of August), the air of excitement and initial events make Ubon feel like a new place. Thais and even a fair share of foreigners flock from all corners of the country, filling Ubon to capacity to join in celebration. The downtown streets surrounding the park are blocked off to cars - and with the swarm of enthused pedestrians, the festival begins.
This festival centers around the elaborate wax sculptures featuring Buddhist mythology. The candles are never actually burned, but are offered to temples to symbolically allow the monks light to study at night.  On the eve before the parade, the spectacular candle sculptures are positioned throughout the blocked off streets.

Like every other Thai festival I've had the pleasure of experiencing, there is the typical accompaniment of feasting, dancing & music performances and markets up the wazoo. A dinky-looking carnival even set up shop for the kiddies. My friend dragged me on the most acceptable ride given our age, but still not quite so. I saw my life flash before my eyes during the rickety spinning sensation, and all that came to mind was the carnival's definite lack of an insurance policy. Having survived to tell the story, the best part was witnessing the children's sheer joy, even at the cost of 20 baht to ride a bicycle in a circle.
Honestly, would American children get as excited about this 'ride'?
On the day of the actual festival, people arrive as early as 4 or 5 AM to stake out high priority seats to watch the parade. We joined just after 9, and as celebrity-esque farang, we were squeezed right into the events to watch the procession of candles and traditional Thai dancing.
Students are given an assignment to interview a farang at the Festival. We probably took about 30 surveys and pictures each.
Sometimes, the monotony of working a job I don't really want to be doing anymore makes me wonder why I'm so far from home. But it is these cultural experiences that remind me how incredible this country really is and how truly fulfilling it is to partake in.

With a month and a half left in Ubon, my attachment for this place has become real. There is no question now that time is racing and I'm trying my best to soak up every last bit.

A quick clip of traditional Thai drumming from the festival

1 comment:

Lani Cox said...

Thanks for posting such wonderful pictures. It looks amazing :)