(From the Nation)
By Phoowadon Duangmee
The Mon community in Sangkhla Buri on Thailand’s border with Myanmar pay respect to their ancestors by sending off a boat laden with food
According to traditional beliefs, the seventh month in the lunar calendar is when restless spirits roam the earth. That seventh month usually falls around August or September and all over Asia, communities mark the festival of the hungry ghost in their own fashion.
Chinese-speaking communities celebrated the festival last week, burning paper money and papier-mache iPhones so that these will travel to the afterworld where they can be used by the spirits, as well as offering boiled chicken and sweets to appease the hungry ghosts. The Khmer, too, killed chickens, leaving small portions of food at crossroads to feed the dead.
The Mon people in the western district of Sangkhla Buri, however, organise a much more festive occasion in memory of departed souls. They build a boat and load it with food then celebrate for two nights before tossing it into the water. This Mon ceremony is very rare, and draws both the curious and the culture buff to Thailand’s western frontier for the rite.
Known as the Mon Floating Boat Festival, this year’s festival is being held over the weekend of September 26 to 28.
“The ritual is known to the Mon as Pohamord, which roughly translates as the Boat of Offerings,” says Arunya Chareonhongsa, a Mon resident of Kanchanburi’s Sangkhla Buri district, as she recounts the origins and purpose of the Mon Floating Boat Festival.
The annual event sees Mon communities towing a full-sized, hand-crafted boat laden with food to the river, The food is left out to sate the appetites of the departed. Once a private and deeply religious ritual, today the festival brings in much-needed tourist revenue to this quiet area.
Thousands of visitors turn out every year during the rite to witness the boat being built, decorated then towed to the water.
The Floating Boat Festival not only commemorates departed Mon pilgrims but also banishes evil and brings luck to those still living. It’s a ritual that dates back to the Mon Hanthawaddy Kingdom (1369-1539) and marks the journey of a high-ranking monk and several Buddhist pilgrims across the Bay of Bengal to fetch a set of Buddhist scriptures in Sri Lanka. On their return trip, one boat capsized in rough seas and the pilgrims inside it drowned. Read more