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khi nok, among other things

Tag Archives: folklore

Last weekend was the Khorat Candle Festival, a celebration and procession of Buddhist Lent.  So, naturally, we all crammed into our friend’s car and fought traffic to see what all the fuss was about. I knew, when I saw a group of mannequin-like things that I would greatly enjoy the festival.

A mannequin sculpture (or something) encouraging people to donate to a temple

The festival took place at the main square in front of Nakhon Ratchasima’s city hall. Large floats constructed out of wood, plaster, foam, and wax lined the streets, drawing crowds of faithful Buddhists, amateur photographers, and the occasional tourist.

Man touching up one of the candle floats

Wax, in the traditional colors of the Thai monk wardrobe, was intricately sculpted and carved to depict representations of Buddhist lore. Some of the floats featured scenes from the life of Buddha, tributes to His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and other Buddhists deities and cultural folktales. The carving of the floats and their subsequent donation is a chance for Thais to commemorate Buddhist lent and raise money for their local wat*.

A sea of wax in Nakhorn Ratchasima

Disregard my other photo comment. This float is literally sailing a sea of wax...

Elephants, dragons, and deities! Oh my!

Although we had dined earlier in the evening at a local Thai-Chinese restaurant, there were numerous street stalls and vendors selling a wide variety of Issan* delicacies: curries, kanomes**, and beverages for those who were hungry. Oddly, a lot of the stall owners were wearing cowboy hats and gingham button-downs. Cowboy hats aside, the festival was peppered with traditional Thai folk music and dance performances. The night culminated in a lighted candle and float procession in order to showcase all of the hand-carved wax. Ultimately, the candles were taken to a wat as a donation for monks to use during their three-month retreat for Buddhist Lent.

Some of the floats were magnificent (while some bordered on the bizarre), there were a lot of people and subsequently a lot of people watching, and there were a lot of strong smells (most of which were not pleasant, believe me) But all in all, it was a fun little festival and we had a lot of laughs.

A bunny-pig and a Buddhist deity making a human offering? Not quite sure what is going on here.

*Buddhist temples

**North East Thailand

***snacks

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Emiko and I went to Bangkok on July 7th to do some light shopping and sight-seeing. We happened upon a soi* that was celebrating one of the most romantic (Japanese) holidays of the year: Tanabata**. This holiday celebrates the love and marriage of two stars: Orihime, the Weaving Princess, and Hikoboshi, the Shepherd. Their romance was all-encompassing and passionate– so much so that they ended up neglecting their sky-duties. Tenkou, the Sky King (and Orihime‘s father), was angry at the two lovers and so he sent them to live at opposite sides of the Milky Way so they could focus on their work. However, Tenkou was sympathetic to the desires of his lovelorn daughter, so he allowed the couple the opportunity to meet once a year, every year– as long as the young couple worked very hard to complete their duties over the ensuing months.

The celestial reunion of Orihime and Hikoboshi usually happens on July 7th, when the stars Vega and Altair are in close proximity to one another. If you happen to be in Japan on July 7th, and the night is clear, you just might be able to witness the heady reunion of the star-couple.

Traditionally, the Japanese celebrate the Star Festival by writing wishes and desires on tanzaku (brightly-colored paper streamers) and then hanging the inscribed streamers–along with other paper decorations–on bamboo trees. After the festival the streamers are burned in a bright bonfire to help make the wishes come true.

Writing wishes on streamers for Tanabata

Tanzaku hanging from the branches of a bamboo tree

While my wish wasn’t romantic or even that specific, I do hope it comes true– through hard work and inner-reflection (I wrote on my tanzaku that I want to be a happier and healthier person). Although, now that I am thinking about it, a little magic every now and then is always nice. I could certainly stand some glitter in my life (kind of like Newt Gingrich in this video).

* Alley-way

** The Star Festival

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In Thai ghost-lore, if you are an abusive son or daughter (or if you have committed parricide), you will become the unfortunate pii braed when you die. What’s pii braed, you ask? Well, it is, quite simply, a giant, lanky ghost. The crimes you committed against your parents will determine your ghost-body’s bizarre proportions. For instance, if you were known to hit your mother, your ghost will have apishly-long arms with giant, heavy hands. If you were one to kick your father, your ghost’s legs will be towering and stilt-like and your feet, enormous. In addition to having a distorted corporeal body, the pii braed features a sucker-like mouth, much like the lamprey’s oral disk.

I’m not quite sure of the reason behind pii braed‘s small suckermouth, although, I’ve certainly asked enough Thais about it. The best we can figure is that the mouth inhibits the pii braed from ever being satiated by food or drink– some last ditch punishment from the spirit-world for being a horrendous son or daughter. It is worth mentioning that in Thailand (as in many Asian societies), respect for one’s elders is a major part of the cultural fabric. This ghost-story is meant to teach children to respect one’s parents, to never abuse them, to never kill them– lest you become a homely pii braed.

The following is a video of pii braed caught on cellphone!

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There are many accounts on how pii krasue* came to haunt the land. One of the more popular accounts takes place in the 1700’s– immediately after the fall of the Khmer Empire to Thailand. Following the battle, a Thai ruler happened upon the beautiful Khmer Princess Tarawatee and decided to take her, forcefully, as his bride.

One day, the jealous Thai ruler saw Tarawatee lovingly embrace another man. Unable to tolerate her infidelity, he sentenced both Tarawatee and her lover to death. Her lover was to be beheaded; she, burned at the stake. While awaiting her execution, Tarawatee was told by a fellow prisoner that in a nearby village there was a woman named Daow who looked identical to the young princess.  Princess Tarawatee was then chained to her death-stake and set aflame by her husband. As she began to burn, she sent her spirit to find– and take over– Daow’s body. Unfortunately, the moment Tarawatee’s spirit entered Daow’s body, Daow was killed by a curse. Tarawatee’s spirit was able to raise Daow’s deceased body from the ground as it’s hunger for revenge was great.

Each and every night following the young women’s deaths, pii krasue has haunted the S.E. Asian landscape. Daow’s head hungrily rips from it’s body in search of blood and entrails to feed upon. Many believe that the pii krasue preys upon pregnant women, feeding on fetuses with vampire-like teeth, causing miscarriages.  The ghost’s beautiful face mesmerizes and incapacitates it’s victims as it floats through the air, viscera streaming like ribbons from it’s neck. Once fed, the bloody head returns to its body before the sun begins to rise.

In order to protect oneself from pii krasue, pregnant women are to place thorned branches around the house, thereby discouraging the ghost from feeding upon unborn babies. Killing pii krasue is quite another matter; one must cut the intestines from it’s sopping neck. Another method is to hide pii krasue’s body so that it can not reattach before daybreak.

There are other versions of this haunted folk-tale– although they are considerably less extravagant than this account. If you are interested in learning more about pii krasue, there are several Thai horror movies that are quite campy (but good none the less): Krasue Valentine (2006) and Demonic Beauty (2002).

Here is a video of pii krasue that was captured by a Thai student:

The panel of men discuss the possibilities as to whether or not the floating red light is actually that of pii krasue. Unfortunately, since I am not yet fluent in Thai, I don’t know what they make of the student’s video.

*Krasue Ghost

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a sucker for ghost stories (haunted folk tales, horror movies, etc). Now, I am not a “believer” in the paranormal– I just enjoy a good fright from the safety of my bed. Since moving to Thailand, I have been introduced to a whole new level of belief and reaction to such stories. From what I gather, most Thais believe that there are pii1 everywhere– living in buildings, jungles, banana trees, and even in the ground. Those who say they do not believe will still take many precautions to pay respect to the spirit world.

Ghost Tree at a Chang Mai mountain wat

Almost every  home, business, and restaurant in Thailand has a strategically placed San Phra Phum2 erected for the primary purpose of appeasing the spirit-world (and perhaps for the auxiliary benefits of choke dii3, protection, and winning the lotto).  Thais place daily offerings of fruit, rice, lotus, and Strawberry Fanta at the door of their San Phra Phum2.

San Phra Phum for sale in Sikhiu, Thailand

Brightly colored ribbons and garlands of flowers are wrapped around the bases of old trees to appease the spirits contained within, while incense, gold flake, and cups of water are placed on the bows of boats and on the dashboards of many vehicles to keep misleading spirits at bay. According to Thai’s, pii1 love Strawberry Fanta– although I did happen to stumble across a very, ahem, credible [blog-]article that asserts 4 out of 5 ghosts don’t actually like Strawberry Fanta, so it’s difficult to tell where ghosts really stand on the matter.

San Phra Phum with Strawberry Fanta offerings

There are literally hundreds of different types of ghosts terrifying Thai citizens, each one created by the circumstances of their death and the life they lead while alive. With ghosts pervading so much of the Thai lifestyle and belief-system, I thought it would be fun to share one Thai ghost story each week with you. Keep an eye out for this week’s tale of pii krasue, one of the most terrifying female ghosts haunting the people of Thailand and Cambodia.

This cute advertisement offers a glimpse of some of the more well-known ghosts of Thailand.

1. Ghosts

2. Ghost House

3. Good luck

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