The annual festival, known as Vessantara in other nations, is typically held in the preaching hall or sala of the local temple or wat. It commences in the early morning and continues until midnight. Occurring once a year, the festival spans three complete days, taking place between February and April, during the fourth lunar month.
This year I participated at Ban Hat Hien, Luang Prabang, Laos.
During this three-day celebration, the focus is on the monks who recite the tale of Prince Vessantara, the second-to-last incarnation of Buddha. This lengthy chant consists of a thousand verses and was originally recorded on fourteen sets of palm-leaf manuscripts. The monks recite the entire story in the local language without interruption, in a performance that lasts anywhere from twelve to eighteen hours.
Once upon a time, King Phavet ruled his father’s kingdom with kindness, generously giving away all of his possessions except for a lone elephant. One of his villages, Gadinkha, was suffering from a severe drought that had caused lakes and rivers to dry up. The hungry citizens pleaded with King Phavet for assistance, but all he had to offer was his elephant, which he bestowed upon them. Unfortunately, this gesture did not alleviate their crisis. The villagers grew angry and voiced their grievances to Phavet’s father. This deeply upset the elderly king, who subsequently banished Phavet, his wife Madthii, and their children to the forest.
Phavet’s wife and children were given to the villagers, resulting in rain and bountiful crops. They believed Phavet’s elephant brought them good fortune and convinced the king to bring him back as their king. Phavet married again, had a son, but later became a monk and achieved enlightenment. In Laos, the Boun Pha Vet festival celebrates King Phavet’s life with a parade carrying a painted scroll from the forest through the village to the pagoda.
Upon entering the temple we received a blessing from monks. The morning was spent preparing drinks and food to take to the temple.
Kids were running around, and everyone was grabbing food and sitting down to eat. All were welcome including Rosie (my dog).