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Festival for Lost Spirits-Luang Phabang

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Boun Khao Padabdin

Festival for the Lost Spirits
with Lao Airlines.

photos by Gun Ketwech

?) believed in spirits–many spirits. After people died,  their souls remained, some good and some bad. For example the good ones are the ancestors’ spirits that protect family members from any harm, house spirit are the one who protect the family home, and forest spirits take care of the woods and surrounding natural habitats. The bad ones are believed to be spirits that wander around, completely lost after death; they are hungry and don’t have family, friends or relatives whom make merit for them. Because of this, there are many rituals involving the spirits in these areas.

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Making merit to spirits at the Pagoda

Meaning of Boun Khao Padabdin

ບຸນເຂົ້າປະດັບດິນ (or Boun Khao Padabdin) can be translated literally from Laoatian tongue to be “merit rice to decor the ground”, meaning the motion is focused on giving merit to both the ancestors’ spirits, while not forgetting the abandoned spirits at the same time. The festival is held annually on the 14th of the waning moon in the 9th lunar month (usually around the end of August or beginning of September). This year Boun Khao Padabdin is on the 1st of September and it is divided in 3 parts. First, the day before the event is called Wan Loh Lad  and it is the preparation of food and a shopping day, which normally starts at 6.00 am-2 pm. from the night market intersection going all the way to the old arena near Vat That Luang. In the evening every house prepares Khao Tom Mud  (a steamed sticky rice wrapped in banana leaf and Khao Hor Po (a nice pack of rice food, fruits and sweets wrapped in banana leaf and also some other dishes and sticky rice–yummy).

Khao Po : Package of food for lost spirits.

Khao Hor Po : Package of food for lost spirits.

The best time that people believe the spirits will come and take/receive the food is around 2.00 am- 4.00 am, so all the people will go to the temple to merit their food and Khao Tom Mud to ancestor’s spirits since the spirits will most likely be gone already. After that first round they will put Kho Hor Po around the temple wall, around the house or at the foot steps of the house for the abandoned or lost spirits and also wish them well for  for a better new life.

As usual Laotian people still do sticky rice offering alms in the morning, but later in the day they also put sticky rice balls at the foot of pagodas and the corners of temples for the same reason.

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Sticky rice balls at the base of the Chanting Hall of Vat Xiang Thong

In the Afternoon, another special event called Boun Suang Hua or Boat racing competition on the Khan River can be joined in. The main area of the event is held where the Khan and Mekong river meets. People are packed alongside the river to watch the racing match. Each boat must be adorned with a Mae Ya Nang or beauty princess which also needs to be a virgin, that will give the boat crews victory.

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Boat decorating at the temple.

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Vat That Luang Team with their Mae Ya Nang

If Boun Songkan is the most popular festival, Boun Khao Padabdin event is a very near second, which many people from provinces in Laos near and far come to join, as well as tourists from all over the world. Going to Luang Phabang the day before the event would be best if you would like to see the real Luang Phabang’s people lifestyle.

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Boat racing compitition is one of the tradion that unites Luang Phabang people together.

Strong beliefs in Buddhism enrich the culture and tradition. The people in Luang Phabang are the living history of their own city which is the reason why  Luang Phrabang is one of the World’s Heritage Sites.
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