Bun Bang Fai

Rocket Festival (Boun Bang Fay, Bun Bang Fai)

Type of Holiday: Calendar/Seasonal, Folkloric, Religious (Buddhist)
Date of Observation: April-May; full moon day of Vaisakha
Where Celebrated: Laos, Thailand, United States
Symbols and Customs: Rocket
Related Holidays: Vesak

ORIGINS The Rocket Festival in Laos marks the coming of the rainy season. It provides people with an excuse to get together and celebrate during a time when the weather makes almost any work impossible. Known as Bun Bang Fai (bun means "festival" in Laos), the festival was originally intended to guarantee good crops. But with the arrival of Buddhism, it also became a commemoration of the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha.

Buddhism, one of the four largest religious families in the world, is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (c. 563-483 B . C . E .), who came to be known as Buddha, or "The Enlightened One." The basic tenets of Buddhism can be summarized in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths are 1) the truth and reality of suffering; 2) suffering is caused by desire; 3) the way to end suffering is to end desire; and 4) the Eightfold Path shows the way to end suffering. The Eightfold Path consists of 1) right view or right understanding; 2) right thoughts and aspirations; 3) right speech; 4) right conduct and action; 5) right way of life; 6) right effort; 7) right mindfulness; and 8) right contemplation.

The Rocket Festival takes its name from the main event: a contest among wat (temple) communities to see which can build and launch the most successful ROCKET . After the religious ceremonies associated with the festival are over, people dress in traditional costumes and gather outdoors. The rockets are traditionally bamboo poles up to 20 feet in length, decorated with dragons and colored streamers and filled with a special gunpowder mix. They are judged not only on the basis of how far they fly when launched, but on how beautifully they are decorated. Buddhist monks are generally the best rocket makers.

The Rocket Festival was brought to the United States by Laotians who immigrated in the 1970s and 1980s. Since there is no rainy season in the United States, Bun Bang Fai is observed there primarily for nostalgic reasons, and to introduce Americans to Laotian culture. Rocket Festival

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Rocket

Bun Bang Fai dates back to a time when Laotians believed in many gods and would fire rockets in hopes of persuading them to send the rain needed for the rice harvest. The rocket was seen as a much more immediate way of communicating with the gods than the traditional methods of prayer and sacrifice.

The rocket contests that are held today have less to do with religion and agriculture than with competition among neighborhoods and between civic and military groups. Officials judging the contest usually watch from a grandstand and give prizes for the most brilliant, the fastest, and the highest rocket.

FURTHER READING

Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Van Straalen, Alice. The Book of Holidays Around the World. New York: Dutton, 1986.

WEB SITE

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum www.nasm.si.edu/research/dsh/artifacts/RM-BounBangFai.htm

Bun Bang Fai (Boun Bang Fay; Rocket Festival)

April-May; full moon day of Hindu month of Vaisakha; second weekend in May
Bun Bang Fai is a rain ceremony celebrated in Laos and northeastern Thailand during Buddhist Vesak or Vesakha Puja, observed on the full moon day of the sixth Hindu month (Vaisakha). The Bun Bang Fai ( bun or boun means "festival" in Lao) pre-dates Buddhism and is intended to insure good crops.
In Laos, this is one of the country's wildest celebrations, with music and irreverent dances, processions, and merrymaking. The celebration ends with the firing of bamboo rockets into the sky, supposedly prompting the heavens to commence the rainy season and bring water to the rice fields. Prizes go to the fastest, highest, and brightest rockets.
In Thailand, the celebration is usually on the second weekend in May and is especially festive in Yasothon, with villagers shooting off huge rockets. Before the shooting, there are beauty parades, folk dances, and ribald entertainment.
CONTACTS:
Lao Embassy
2222 S St. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
202-667-0076; fax: 202-332-4923
www.laoembassy.com
Tourism Authority of Thailand
611 N. Larchmont Blvd., 1st Fl.
Los Angeles, CA 90004
800-842-4526 or 323-461-9814; fax: 323-461-9834
www.tourismthailand.org
SOURCES:
BkHolWrld-1986, May 26
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 381
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References in periodicals archive ?
Bun Bang Fai (Rocket Festival) Shed your inhibitions and join in this rain dance that's combined with high-powered bamboo rockets.
At Bun Bang Fai (Rocket festival), Yasothan, get a fascinating glimpse of culture and tradition, amidst shooting bamboo rockets.