Swiiiishhhh ---- BOOM!! It may sound like a strange sort of thing to do, but every year in the six lunar month (which generally falls in May), the rural people of northeastern Thailand hold a festival that is an unusual blend of the sacred and the profane called Bun Bang Fai, or the Rocket Festival.
The celebration involves placing huge homemade rockets on a 12-meter-tall bamboo launch pad, where some incredibly brave fellow lights the fuse, then scampers away before the rocket ignites and swooshes skyward at incredible speeds, hurtling across an empty farm field as spectators clap and cheer and order another round, discussing among themselves the merits of that particular launch for its distance, or the size and color of the explosion.
Meanwhile, the more earnest perform traditional merit-making Buddhist rituals, making offerings, burning incense and praying.
The precise origins of Bun Bang Fai are a matter of some debate, but it is primarily a fertility ritual, held just before the rainy season gets underway. It makes sense really, firing a phallic object into sky to fertilize it and produce the rain essential to a successful rice crop and the very survival of the people. And it works every year the rains come. Why would you tamper with that, especially when its so much fun?
The ritual is quite obviously borne of a simpler time before irrigation and television, when people instinctively understood their symbiotic relationship with nature. The festival in the more down home parts of the country often involves wandering minstrels among the crowd singing hilariously bawdy songs about the dirty deeds that we all get up to when the mood is right.
The rocket launching itself is competitive, with prizes for the best explosion, greatest distance, etc. The secrets of rocket making have been passed down over the generations and refined into sophisticated, multi-chambered wonders of pre-scientific technology. Some of these things are four or five meters long, and fly a kilometer or more, or explode at their apogee into a spectacular and colorful fireball.
As if this wasnt enough, there are countless other activities (as with any country fair) including live music, dancing and other contests.
Though countless villages observe the celebration, on various dates and the best organized is held in Yasothorn Province. This year the three-day blowout runs from May 10-12.