The Rocket Festival, also known as Boun Bang Fai, is one of the main festivals in Laos. Boun Bang Fai is a call for rain and a celebration of good harvest, that takes place during the sixth month of the lunar calendar. During the festival, crowds fire rockets into the air to ask the God of Rain for a good growing season, free from pests and drought.
The rockets, although of mid-size, are thoroughly decorated before the firing starts. Onlookers gather around the group doing the rocket-firing, sometimes, in traditional clothes but often dressed plainly, although colorfully. Some of the longer rockets are up to three meters in length while the shorter ones are just under one meter. However, the rockets vary not only in appearance but in their deep individualized spiritual purposes.
The main rocket, which is designed to carry the public’s prayers to the rain god, is known as the Hang; another rocket known as the Ma is launched to mark the passage of an important and beloved figure. A makeshift launchpad is set up for each rocket. The launchpad is usually handbuilt from either wood or metal, with a ladder, for those doing the firing, usually men, to climb to the top. The firing of the Ta Lai marks the beginning of the most important festivities.
Prior to the firing of the Ta Lai, a village committee plans all of the holiday celebrations in advance. The community, which is never smaller in size than one hundred fun-loving neighbors, builds the rockets from bamboo, and after the construction of each rocket — they are carefully inspected and refined for perfection.
Elaborate masks are required for all and the people prepare traditional Lao food before the festivities. In the capital, Vientiane, the celebrations take place outside the city to avoid damage to the city center.
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