Lao Festivals of Sticky Rice and Long Boats
Luang Prabang, the largest city in Northern Laos and a UNESCO World Heritage site, celebrates two significant festivals during the three months of Buddhist Lent (usually from July to September depending on the lunar calendar). The spiritual ceremony of Boun Khao Padap Dinh or Ancestor’s Day is held at every temple to honor the deceased. Lao people go to the temple to offer morning alms to the monks and novices and listen to sermons. The ceremonial offering is the Lao diet staple, sticky rice. Boun Khao Padap Dinh literal translates to mean “festival of rice packets decorating the earth.” The act of placing sticky rice in the monk’s bowls and distributing small packets of sticky rice around the house or at the temple honors the dead by transmitting the blessings of this meritorious act to the ancestors.
Buddhist Lent also coincides with the cool, rainy season and the time for the Boun Souang Heua or Boat Racing Festival. This colorful and much anticipated event is held on different weekends all over the country. The festival date in Luang Prabang falls exactly at the midpoint of Buddhist Lent. Located on the Nam Khan River, which joins the Mekong River at the Old Town of Luang Prabang, each temple or nearby village is represented by a long, wooden boat. Each boat holds 30 to 50 traditionally costumed, determined rowers either sitting in the front to shout the pace, in the middle to paddle, or in the back to steer. With an audience of mostly local people, it is an amazing spectacle to witness. Traditionally the race is held when the river is at its highest level and fiercest current. The long boats represent the mythical Naga serpent and the race is intended to give thanks to the spirit of the mountains for the water it has brought farmers to nourish the rice fields.
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