Tradition & Festivals
A cat in a thinly woven
bamboo basket is
carried in a procession to pray for rain.
Thailand is an agricultural country. Most Thai people
in the rural areas grow crops especially rice for a
living. Their fate inevitably depends on the falling
of rain that will give life and freshness to their crops.
The farmers will greatly suffer if there is drought.
So they turn to have faith in beliefs that can alleviate
their worry, prolong their hope and give inspiration
to them. That is why there are various kinds of ceremonies
of praying for plenty of rainfall, different in forms
from region to region.
Due to the climate of the north, northeast and the central
regions of Thailand, which is dry in the hot and the
cool seasons, ceremonies of praying for rainfall are
held in these regions. Stories and legends about three
such important ceremonies, viz. the Tradition of Cat
Procession, the Rocket Festival and the Phi Ta Khon
Festival, are presented below.
The central region has the ceremony of parading a female
cat to pray for rain. According to an ancient belief,
the cries of a female cat could draw a rainfall. So
the heart of the ceremony is when people throw water
at the cat to make it cry a lot. In preparing for this
tradition, a selected beautiful female cat is put into
a thinly woven bamboo basket. The colourfully dressed
farmers in a village will form a procession to parade
the cat around the village. When walking, they will
joyfully dance and sing a song with the lyrics asking
for a rainfall enough for feeding their crops. The procession
will pass from one house to another. Villagers staying
in their houses when hearing the approaching procession
will prepare a bowl of water and then splash it on the
cat while the members of the procession will express
their gladness as if it were really raining and say,
"Rain is falling. Rain is falling. A lot of
rainfall. Our rice fields and the grass are all green
It is believed that if any house owner whose house the
parade passes by fails to throw water at the cat, the
cat will get angry and instead of calling rain for the
farmers will use magic powers to prolong the drought.
The ceremony ends after the procession has passed every
house in the village.
Similarly to the central region, the northern people
rely on the cat in asking for a rainfall. The cat is
released into an enclosed area around which are placed
earthen dolls of elephants, horses, cows, buffaloes,
frogs, bull frogs, etc. Also included are sacrificial
food and drinks and flowers. Villagers are required
to observe either the Five or Eight Buddhist Precepts
for three days beforehand. Then a number of Buddhist
monks are invited to chant sutras while the villagers
pray for plenty of rainfall.
As to the northeastern people, they have a unique festival
called ngan bun bangfai or the Rocket Festival.
It is held at the beginning of the rainy season as an
annual plea to god for plenty of rainfall. A legend
has it that once a god called Phaya Thaen, who was the
most powerful in heaven, and was in charge of the regulation
of rainfall in the world, was angry with the animals
on earth. To retaliate, he stopped the rain completely,
causing distress to all creatures. Greatly troubled,
the animals made war with Phaya Thaen twice, but were
defeated on both occasions.
A beautifully decorated
Later, Phaya Khankhak, a former incarnation of the Buddha,
mobilized those animals to fight against Phaya Thaen
and they won in the end. As a result, Phya Thaen had
to promise that if during the sixth lunar month (roughly
corresponding to May) each year, bamboo rockets were
launched on earth, he would not fail to make the rain
People watching the launch
of the rocket
This year the Rocket Festival is scheduled to be held
from 12 to 13 May in Yasothon Province. Other northeastern
provinces also feature the Rocket Festival but not of
the same grand scale as Yasothon Province.
Processions of the rockets
Visitors will find the festival spectacular because
of the colourful rocket processions, a rocket contest,
a beauty contest and folk entertainments. For more information,
please contact TAT Northeastern Office, Region 2 on
tel: +66 (0) 4524 3770, 0 4525 0714.
Another festival of the northeast is the Phi Ta Khon
Festival. It is an old tradition taking place in Dan
Sai County, Loei Province, yearly. The festival is held
as part of Bun Phra Wet and Bun Bang Fai, which are
major festivals of the province. Bun Phra Wet is a religious
ceremony in which people listen to the recitation of
scriptures to gain merit. Bun Bang Fai is the launching
of bamboo rockets to pray for rain. This year the Phi
Ta Khon Festival will take place from 23 to 24 June.
The legend of the festival is derived from an episode
in the Wetsandon Jataka recounting the journey home
of Prince Wetsandon (the last former life of the Lord
Buddha) and his wife Matsi after years of exile in the
forest. The townspeople then celebrating his return
were so delightful that the spirits emerged to join
The event lasts for three days featuring Buddhistic
rituals, traditional ceremonies and fun-filled activities.
Phi Ta Khon festival highlights the eye-appealing colourful
parade of Phi Ta Khon along with local performances.
Most Phi Ta Khon carry wooden weapons in the shape of
an oversized penis with a splash of red paint on the
tip and played with the audience, who are amused by
their antics. The use of the phalluses is not considered
rude. Indeed, they are a token of power and fertility.
Natives believe that these things will satisfy Phaya
Thaen, a most revered deity of the northeastern region
who is believed to control the well-being of villagers.
Visitors will be amused by local performances and enjoy
themselves during the festival. For more information,
please contact TAT Northeastern Office Region 5 on tel:
+66 (0) 4232 5406 to 7.
Lastly, it should be added that the tradition of Cat
Procession is a local tradition, not a fun fair. And
at present, it is rarely held except when there is the
most severe drought situation. So, if you would like
to learn something from these events, you can join the
Rocket Festival or the Phi Ta Khon Festival. Both are
held every year. Apart from having an opportunity to
have a great fun, you will also get to know the northeastern
people's ways of living.