do we prepare the rocket festival?
Traditionally, the rocket festival is the sixth Lunar month ceremony that Lao people have conducted for many generation(s). It is a very important event that we could not abandon since the early period of time. It is also the important symbol of unity and friendship used to fight against dry weather and to request rain.
Eventhough, belief in the rain god is less now than in former times, the Lao still respect this tradition and continue to prepare the rocket festival as one of the most significant activities that takes place before of the season of rice cultivation. In addition to the preparation of rockets, there are some Buddhist ceremonies such as waterblessing rituals that the senior monks perform at the same event.
The Rocket festival is the only annual chance the farmers have to request rain from the god called Phaya Thaen. Because of the strong belief held since ancient times, when the land was dry and farmers did not have enough water for rice production. So the rocket festival were instituted..
It is the one means for human beings to communicate symbolically with the god to request rain.
There are two stories. Eventhough these are told differently the main contents are the same. One of the stories is titled Phaya Khankhak, the Toad King and another is ThaoPhadeng- Nang Ai.
Once upon a time, when the lord Buddha was not yet enlightened, he had to be born and reborn to accumulate sufficient merit fitting to be the Buddha. In one of his lives, he was born Phya Khankhaak, the Toad King.
Because of his merit making and loving kindness, alll the humans and animals respected him. The news of this well-respected human king made the rain god, Phya Thaen so jealous and humiliated.
In order to spoil the name of the Toad King, Phya Thaen did not send the rain to the earth for 8 years and 8 months. People had no water for cultivation and consumption. A huge number of vulnerable people and animals died. Only the strong could survive.
All surviving creatures on earth decided to fight Thaen for rain. The Naga King and his naga or mythical serpent troops volunteered to start the war against the god of rain. In this battle, the Naga King and his naga or mythical serpent troops lost and they received many wounds. After the wounds were healed, the naga and snakes' bodies became multi coloured.
Then the King of Bees and his army took over the war. The fighting took many days and huge numbers of bees were killed. The King of Bees and his troops met the same fate as the Naga army and their bodies became multi-coloured as well.
All other creatures were very afraid. Finally, the Toad King decided to go to the front and he had a clever plan of three steps. The first step, he sent the termites to eat the handles of the swords of the god of rain and his army.
The second step, he sent the King of Scorpions and his troops to the sky to hide themselves in the firewood and clothing of the gods and goddesses and be ready to bite at any time. In the morning when the God of Rain and his soldiers woke up, they would be bitten when they took their firewood and when they got dressed. When they took the handles of the swords, all handles would be destroyed and broken and become useless.
The third steps, the Toad King ordered his troops to begin the fight. Since the God of Rain's soldiers were suffered from the bites of scorpions, they were not brave enough to fight. When they took the weapons, all their weapons became useless. The King of the Toads sat on the horse back and chased after the God of Rain. And finally the God of Rain was captured and tied up. The King of Toads was the winner. They made an important treaty after they had seized the God of Rain.
The peace treaty was made. Some articles were outlined as follow :
1. The rocket must be made to communicate between the earth people and the God of Rain. Every year, before the rainy season arrives, the earth people have to prepare the rockets and send them to the sky to remind the God of Rain to pour the rain down for ricefields and other crops.
2. The sounds of the frogs are the signals to show that the rain has already fallen down. So when the rain arrives, the frogs have to shout out, signaling that there is plenty of rain available for rice planting.
3. Kites and the flute sounds are the means of signaling that the harvest season has arrived. There is no longer need for rain. When the God of Rain hears these sounds, he has to stop sending the rain and wait until he sees the rocket in the next year.
Thao Phadeng-Nang Ai or Prince Phadaeng and Princess Ai
Once upon a time, King Phya Khom ruled Muang Nonghaen or Thitanakhon peacefully and the people were contented.
Unfortunately, the rain did not fall for 8 years and 8 months. It was a very hard time. People and animals were killed. The God of Rain was so angry he did not send the rain and the land was very dry.
In order to request for rain Phya Khom instructed his people to make the rockets for competition. The winner would receive half of the kingdom and the hand of his daughter, Nang Ai.
The news of this festival spread everywhere. Many kings such as Thao Xianghian, Xiangda, and Muang Song brought their people to join the festival. Among these kings was Thao Phadaeng of Phaphong Kingdom. All of them wished to be the winner so that they could claim their rewards and have the beautiful Nang Ai or Nang Aikham as their wife.
Thao Phangkhi ( the son of the Naga King ) heard the news of the acclaimed beauty of Nang Ai and fell in love with her. He decided to join the festival as well. He transformed himself into a white squirrel with a golden bell around his neck.
Every morning and evening, Phangkhi squirrel gently jumped on the brances of the fig tree near Nang Ai's palace. When Nang Ai saw him, she liked him and wanted to have him as her pet.
The day for the rocket competition arrived. Many rockets were fired. Some launched up while some stood on the station. Xianghian's rocket went up to the sky. It was the highest one. Phadeeng's rocket was broken. Phya Khom's rocket stayed in the firing station for three days and nights. Nang Ai should be the wife of Xianghian and half of the city should be allocated to him as well. But Nang Ai had fallen in love with Phadaeng so she was very sad.
Nang Ai told the hunter to catch the squirrel for her. The hunter could not catch it alive so he decided to use his arrow to shoot the squirrel. The squirrel fell on the ground and died. Before he died, he begged the god: "Please make my meat about 8 oxen carts full and enough for all to eat. The people who eat my meat, will die like me."
After he died the city people shared the meat with everyone but the widows.
When the Naga King heard that Thao Phangkhi was killed, he was very angry. He sent his troops to destroy Muang Nonghaen. All people were killed except for the widows, for they did not eat Thao Phangkhi's meat.
While the people of Nonghaen were meeting their disaster, Phadaeng rode his horse to rescue Nang Ai, but they could not escape because she also ate the squirrel meat.
These two stories are not common events. All are describing the struggles for world people and animals survivals.
There are two types of the rockets. The first type has no tail. These are : Bangfaiphou, Bangfaiphaniang, Bangfaitalai, Bangfai dokmai, Bangfaikongkao, Bangfaima. The second type has tail and classified as four sorts as below :
1. Bangfainoi is the small rocket. It is used to check that the rain will arrive on time or not. If it goes very high up that means lucky.
2. Bangfaihoi is the one which contained less than 12 kilos of gun powder. It was made for competition.
3. Bangfaimune is the one which contained between 12 kilos to 119 kilos of gun powder.
4. Bangfaisene is the biggest rocket which contained 120 kilos of gun powder.
Chanting or singing for rocket festival is tradition. It is one kind of folksong that one person is the leader. He is the person who chants first then the other repeat. Main contents are about the daily lives of the people.
Here is some parts of a song :
Oh Hao Oh Hao Oh Hao Oh
May we request for a glass of Lao alcohol!
May we request for a bottle of Lao liquor!
If you do not grant us any drink, we will not move away.
If we die as the ghost, we will hunt you.
If you run away, I will throw the soil after you.
If we die to be the bird, we will cut you betel.
If we die to be the rat, we will spoil your loom pattern.
If we die to be your baby, we will cry for your milk.
ໂອ ເຣົາ ໂອ ເຣົາໂອ ເຣົາໂອ
Even if the rocket festival is the old tradition, the Lao people are still believe because the festival made good results as follow :
1. To promote the friendship relations among the villagers.
2. To keep the national heritage.
3. Describing conditions of people lives.
4. Be confidence to gain rain from God for crops cultivation.
5. Reduce the worries by merits and fun making.
6. Motivate people and tourists.
7. Better markets promotion and gain more incomes.
Rocket Festival (Muong Lao July -August 1999)
Story : Thanongsack Vongsackda
Photo : Bounhom Vongdavan
Launching a Rocket
Celabrate Rocket Parade
Rocket is going up to Thaen Palace