Phi Ta Khon is a type of masked procession celebrated on the first day of a three-day Buddhist merit-making holiday known in Thai as “Boon Pra Wate”. The annual festival take place in “May, June or July” at a small town of Dan Sai in the northeastern province of Loei. Participants of the festival dress up like ghosts and monsters wearing huge mask made from carved coconut-tree trunks, topped with a wicker-work sticky-rice steamer. The procession is marked by a lot of music and dancing.
The precise origin of the Phi Ta Khon is unclear. However, it can be traced back to a traditional Buddhist folklore. In the Buddha’s next to last life, he was the beloved Prince Vessandorn. The prince was said to go on a long trip for such a long time that his subjects forgot him and even thought that he was already dead. When he suddenly returned, his people were over-joyed. They welcomed him back with a celebration so loud that it even awoke the dead who then joined in all the fun.
From that time onward the faithful came to commemorate the event with ceremonies, celebrations and the donning of ghostly spirit masks. The reasons behind all the events is probably due to the fact that it was held to evoke the annual rains from the heavens by farmers and to bless crops.
On the second day, the villagers dance their way to the temple and fire off the usual bamboo rockets to signal the end of the procession. The festival organisers also hold contests for the best masks, costumes and dancers, and brass plaques are awarded to the winners in each age group. The most popular is the dancing contest.
Then comes the last day of the event, the villagers then gather at the local temple, Wat Ponchai, to listen to the message of the thirteen sermons of the Lord Buddha recited by the local monks.
Then it is time for the revellers to put away their ghostly masks and costumes for another year. From now on, they must again return to the paddy fields to eke out their living through rice farming as their forefathers did.