Celebrating the End of Buddhist Lent
Boun Ok Phansa, the end of Buddhist Lent, is a national holiday in Laos. It takes place in October, near the end of the rainy season, and coincides with various boat racing festivals.
Known locally as Khao Phansa, Buddhist Lent starts in July and lasts for three months during the wet season. During Khao Phansa, Buddhist monks in Southeast Asia, including Laos take refuge in their temples from the floods that normally occur during the monsoon season. While at the monasteries, they study the teachings of Buddha and meditate.
It is also a time of fasting within the Buddhist community: some devout Buddhists choose to observe Khao Phansa by adopting more ascetic practices, such as giving up meat, alcohol, or smoking.
Early in the morning of Boun Ok Phansa, people line up outside the temples to offer alms to the monks. In the evening, candlelight processions are organized around the temples, and small decorative boats called kathong that are filled with flowers, candles, and incense. As they light the candles, boats are set afloat on the Mekong River. It is a popular belief that if you set a kathong afloat with your partner, you will still be together in the next life!
The Boun Ork Phansa festival is quite spectacular in the royal city of Luang Prabang, where hundreds of colorful lanterns are set out on the floors of the local temples, creating a beautifully enchanting atmosphere.
In the Lao capital, Vientiane, Boun Ok Phansa is followed by the Boat Racing Festival, the next morning. At the starting line, hundreds of rowing teams compete fiercely for the coveted trophy.
Traditionally, Boun Ok Phansa is a time to honor the river spirit of the Mekong. It is thought that sickness, bad luck, and everything negative can be washed away by this mighty river.
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