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End Of Buddhist Lent Culminates In Colourful Celebrations

Source: Vientiane Times

Buddhists across the country spent two days taking part in colourful festivities to mark the end of Buddhism lent or Ork Phan Sa which concluded the three-month traditional rain retreat observed by monks.

Lent began at the end of July and ended last Friday, and now monks and novices are allowed to travel away from their temples. Ordinary folk can now organise events such as weddings, from which they have largely abstained from during lent, Vientiane monks explained to local media.

To mark the special occasion, devotees carried silver bowls with offerings to give to monks at local temples on Friday morning.
The almsgiving ceremony aims to make merit for believers who hope their offerings will go to specific spirits of relatives as they make resolutions to give up bad habits and do more good deeds.

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On Friday evening, Lao people, especially young couples, attended colourful Lai Heau Fai ceremonies at local rivers with bamboo boats launched together with thousands of floating folded banana leaves bearing flowers, incense and candles, to pay homage to the river spirit and dispel bad luck. Young couples used bamboo boats to pray for their love, in the belief the vessels floating down a river will make their relationship long-lasting.

The candlelit boats create a stunning sight from the riverbank, as people make their way to the water’s edge to cast them adrift.
Some people mark the festival in their homes by lighting candles on their balconies and prayer altars, while some families fold banana leaves to resemble small traditional longboats and decorate them with flowers, candles, incense and balls of sticky rice.
These banana leaf boats are held together with bamboo and shaped into the head of a naga (legendary serpent) in the hope of bringing harmony and good luck to the family.

Some people set off fireworks or hold colourful candlelit processions around their homes to ask for blessings from the naga and Buddha. Many local temples display traditional boats made by monks on the temple grounds which are decorated with candles. The monks create several different styles of boats to provide an enjoyable spectacle for the thousands who turn out for the event.

Fireworks light up the night sky and in some sections of the Mekong River fireballs can be seen rising from the water as the river-dwelling naga make their presence felt.

Lao people believe the fireballs are the nagas’ way of honouring Buddha for the three months of mediation undertook during lent.

Saturday saw the boat racing festival organised along the Mekong River in Vientiane to celebrate the end of Buddhist lent which attracted huge crowds who lined the riverbank to cheer on their favourite teams and enjoy the exciting and fun atmosphere.

This year’s boat racing festivals in Vientiane and the provinces featured smaller fleets than previous years as part of scaled-down activities amid the Covid-19 pandemic.