Bun Bang Fai Rocket Festival
Venue: Phya Thaen Park in the Northeastern province of Yasothon
The rocket festival, known in Thai as 'Bun Bang Fai,' is an ancient local festival that has been carried out continuously till modern times. It is popularly celebrated in Yasothon, a province in Thailand's northeast, and is usually held in the second week of May.
In Thailand, the month of May is the beginning of the rainy season and farmers are ready to begin planting their rice fields. The festival is associated with traditional beliefs in the supernatural powers that help promote the production of rice crops for the coming planting season.
The legend has it that once there was a rain god named Vassakan who loved to be worshipped with fire. The townspeople created a rocket or 'Bang Fai' to send to heaven, where the god resided. They believed that the god would hear their entreaties and bless them with plentiful rain for rice cultivation. So the celebration is entirely to the god of rain.
Like several other Thai festivals, Buddhist monks would be in attendance for the ceremony. The rockets, launch platforms and other decorations for this event are prepared for several weeks before the actual event. An average rocket is some nine metres in length and carries 20-25 kilograms of gunpowder
Originally the rockets were made out of natural materials, but these days, they are slightly more sophisticated. Rockets are packed with several kilos of gunpowder instead. In order to make the rocket festival much more fun, various competitions for the biggest and highest flying rocket are held, all conducted with the undying Thai spirit of 'sanook'.
On the festival day, rockets are paraded to the launch site. Villagers dress in colorful traditional costumes, playing, teasing and dancing, to accompany the procession.
The climax of the festival is the launch time. The rockets are fired from their launch platforms one by one. Noisy folk music and cheers can be heard for each liftoff. The rocket that reaches the greatest height is declared the winner. The owner of this rocket dances and pushes for rewards from the crowds. The owners of rockets that exploded or failed to fly are thrown in the mud.
Whether or not their wishes are granted as they believe, the festival helps strengthen and promote harmony among the villagers, which will be needed when the new crop season begins.