Phi Tha Khon - Jim Wageman

One of the most unusual of all Thai celebrations is the Phi Tha Khon festival, a kind of Halloween on steroids held annually at Dansai, a village in Loei Province in the north of Isaan. The festival is one part of a generations-old three-day celebration that includes a bamboo-rocket festival and a merit-making ceremony in which villagers gather at a local temple to listen to an overnight reading of Buddhist sermons.

The Phi Tha Khon portion of the festival stems from what seems to be a local interpretation of one of the tales from the Buddhist canon of jataka tales, a collection of stories telling of the 500-some incarnations of the Bodhisattva before he became the Buddha. The Vessantara Jataka relates the story of the Bodhisattva's penultimate incarnation, that preceding the final incarnation in which he attained Enlightenment and became the Buddha. In the tale, the Bodhisattva is born as a prince, Vessantara, who is wrongfully banished from his father's kingdom but ultimately welcomed back amid much rejoicing and happiness among the people.