Phi Ta Khon is one of the most unique and colourful festivals in the very cultural Thailand. Annually, it is held in Dansai in Loei Province.
There are two theories about where the name “Phi Ta Khon” comes from. One is that it evolved from the phrase “Phi Tam Kon” which in English means “Ghost follows a person”. A long time ago, the Dansai villagers believed that ghosts came out of the forest to follow the Lord Buddha. Another theory is that because of the similarity of Dansai’s ghost masks with that of the Khon masks of Central Thailand, that they came to be called “Phi Ta Khon”.
Activities in the festival
The Phi Ta Khons wear a mask and a unique costume made by each villager. Over the years, these masks have become very intricate in design and also colourful. In the old days, the masks were thrown into the river at the end of the festival. But these days, the people use the masks as decoration during the year and then re-use them during the next festival.
Every Phi Ta Khon has a weapon such as a sword which has a tip that looks like a penis. They also wear cow bells which make a noise as they do a kind of a rain dance. In addition to the Phi Ta Khons, there are also others taking part in the procession. These two are the Giant Phi Ta Khon. Unlike the regular sized ghosts, there are only two giants. They must be male and female giant Phi Ta Khons. The male giant has a large penis which he teases the crowds with. Models of buffaloes remind people the importance of farm animals.
This group of men represents villagers who lived long ago in the forest. They have darkened their skin and are carrying short bamboo poles which they bang on the ground to make a noise. There are others carrying bamboo trays with mulberries or leaves used for herbal medicine.
Quite a few people in the parade have symbolic sexual objects which they use playfully with the crowd, in particular with the young ladies. In an agricultural society, the sex organs are the symbol of fertility. Villagers believe that playing with the symbolic sexual organs causes sufficient rain to fall in the rainy season. Some people also believe that this also helps to expel bad spirits.
The Phi Ta Khon Ghost Festival takes place every year either at the end of June or early July. The actual date is worked out in advance during a ritual performed by Jao Por Guan, Jao Mae Nang Tiam, the Por Saen and the Nang Tang. If you get a chance, it is really worth attending this festival.
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