Phi Ta Khon, or the Ghost Festival, has been listed among fantastic festivals in Thailand, according to the travel website www.cnngo.com.
Also referred to as “masked festival,” Phi Ta Khon is held annually in the northeastern province of Loei, about 500 kilometers from Bangkok. This unique cultural event is scheduled this year for 22-24 June 2012.
It is part of the Bun Lueang Festival, the largest merit-making ceremony in Dan Sai district of Loei. Phi Ta Khon is found only in this district and it is celebrated not only among local residents; many Thais from other areas of the country and foreign visitors also come to enjoy this merry occasion each year. They also compare this folk festival to Halloween for Western people.
This festival is called Phi Ta Khon because it features processions of people wearing colorful ghost masks with long, pointy noses. The “ghosts” also dress up in picturesque costumes with holes large enough to put their hands through.
Phi Ta Khon reflects the story of a past life of the Buddha, known at that time as Prince Wetsandon. In the story, King Sancha and Queen Phutsadi, Wetsandon’s father and mother, invited Wetsandorn and his wife Matsi to return to town after they had been sent away. Phi Ta Khon spirits were part of the parade as Wetsandon came back to the town.
Dressed as spirits and wearing masks, participants in the procession are male youths and adults. In the old days, the fearful masks were made of coconut trunk painted with bright colors. Today, they are made mainly of hard paper, while their hats are made of glutinous rice bamboo containers worn upside down.
The Phi Ta Khon has his own personal weapon, which looks like a square bell tied to his waist. Some ghosts have a small can with stones inside. The can is also tied around the waist, which makes noise when the Phi Ta Khon moves his body or dances to the music. Replica horses, buffaloes, and elephants form part of the procession.
This festival takes place over two days. On the first day, the merit-making event starts early in the morning when the ghost procession carried Phra Uppakhut, special white pebbles, from the Man River to Phonchai Temple. Phra Uppakhut is believed to help protect people from all dangers and bring success to the ceremony. Later in the same morning, the procession will move on to the place where the spiritual medium will hold a traditional Bai Si ceremony, a fertility rite in connection with life. The ghosts dance and tease the onlookers as they move along.
On the second day, the Phi Ta Khon get together in the morning and the procession proceeds into town. In the afternoon, there will be another procession to invite Wetsandon and Matsi to return to town. In the evening, monks give sermons on the reincarnation of the Buddha in 13 parts. The sermons will continue until the afternoon of the third day.
During the festival, a Phi Ta Khon dance competition, an agricultural produce contest, and cultural shows are usually held to attract local people and visitors.