27 November 2016

Lai Heua Fai - The Candle Light Festival

Every year for a few days in October, Luang Prabang is almost entirely illuminated by candle light… and it is stunning!

Lai Huea Fai, commonly referred to as The Candle Light Festival/The Festival of Lights is once again a Laos holiday that blends together Animist and Buddhist traditions. It is believed that the ceremony originated as a way to pay homage to the river deities and their spirits. However, now small 'boats of light' are floated down the river to signify the letting go of any immoral thoughts and actions, such as greed and anger, over the past year. These small boats known, as 'Krathongs', are made from a banana tree trunk, acting as a base, and decorated with various flowers and candles. At the water's edge, wishes are murmured before they are let go to float down the river.
This year, rather than simply buying these Krathong, we built our very own Krathongs from scratch with the much-needed assistance of the Luang Prabang Children's Library staff. Inscribed with my initials in flowers and after a couple of attempts, I let mine float gracefully down the Mekong River.
I'm pretty sure mine is the one in the middle sinking...

Temples are decorated by beautiful stars, constructed out of bamboo and coloured paper by the Novices and Monks that reside there. This year I had the pleasure of helping Novices at Wat Na Luang, home to a number of my students, make some of these stars and the results were incredible.
These decorations remain up in the temple for a number of days, the reason for which was best explained to me by Novice Dao, "we have spent weeks making all of these stars, now is our chance to show them off."

On the day of the event chanting and candle lighting is conducted at each temple. A relatively small bamboo boat, made by the Novices and Monks beforehand, is filled with candles (see title photo), along with the Temple grounds covered by lanterns and candles.
It is not only the Temples who have to work hard during the festival. Each village creates it's own large decorated boat, made in the image of the Naga, which is then paraded through town before reaching Wat Xieng Thong before they are judged. These boats are then launched into the Mekong River and compete to see whose can stay afloat the longest.

Although I wasn't able to see the final part of the processions, due to the sheer amount of people, Lai Heua Fai is still probably my favourite Lao festival to date. Hours were spent hours going from temple to temple, specifically, the ones home to many of my Novice students, to marvel at the effort that the Novices had put into creating the beauty that lay before us.
Luke T.

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