Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Naga Fireballs

Wax Naga On Float for Sakon Nakhon Wax Castle Festival
This year the Boong Fai Phaya Nak Festival was 18 - 19 October.  This festival celebrates the end of Vassa, the Buddhist Rain Retreat also sometimes referred to as Buddhist Lent, and is also the time of the year when there is a natural or perhaps supernatural phenomenon in Northeast Thailand along the Mekong River.

The Lao Loum people of Lao People's Democratic Republic and their cousins, the ethnic Lao of Isaan, revere a mythological creature, the Naga.  It is believed by many people that the Naga is a giant serpent that lives and rules in the water underworld.  The King of the Nagas had once fought on behalf of Buddha in a war with the King of the Sky.

The Naga was rewarded for his service to Buddha by being made guardians.  In Northeast Thailand and in Laos you will often find Nagas guarding the entrances to Buddhist temples.  The Naga are also often depicted as a seven headed King Cobra spread out over the head of a seated Buddha.  This recognizes the legend that once when the Buddha was meditating, a severe storm occurred.  The Naga rose up and fanned out over the meditating Buddha to protect and shelter him from the storm.

The Naga was devoted to Buddha and had the ability to shape shift - change its appearance.  In perhaps an early case of stalking, the Naga shifted into a human being so that he could follow Buddha and listen to his teachings.  At one point, the Naga, as a man, entered into the process to become a Bhikkhus (ordained Monk).  Unfortunately for him, one night while sleeping, he shape shifted back into a Naga.  Even more unfortunately another Monk witnessed the transformation and informed the Buddha.  The Buddha told the Naga that he could not be a Monk because he was not of this world (human). To prevent a recurrence of the problem, all men as part of their ordination ritual are asked if they are a human.

Even though he could not be a Monk, the Naga continued in his devotion to Buddha and his image is often used in local Wats of both Isaan and Laos.

Naga Fountain at Wat Phra That Choeng Chum
Sakon Nakhon, Thailand

Naga Statue At Wat Suwaneen Gindalam
Sakon Nakhon, Thailand
One time when Buddha was returning to this world at the end of Vassa after having been teaching in Buddhist Heaven, all creatures were happy and celebrated the Buddha's return.  The Nagas showed their happiness by releasing fire balls.

Near Nong Khai, more specifically Phon Phisai, the release of fireballs from the Mekong River and lesser bodies of water commemorates that long ago time when the Buddha returned at the end of Vassa.

This year I had every intention of attending the Boong Fai Phaya Nak Festival.  During our first visit to the festival we had not seen any fireballs.  I wanted to give it another shot.  However we did not have time to attend.  After our visit to the Sakhon Nakhon Wax Castle Festival we returned home on 18 October for Duang to attend her third (remember how significant "3" is in Buddhism) and last women's retreat at Wat Ban Mat.  After spending most of the night chanting, worshiping, and listening to sermons, Duang was too tired to battle the crowds or to stay up late another night.  That was no problem - there is always next year or even the year after that.

However I did see some Naga fireballs this year ... sort of.  On our first night in Sakon Nakhon we went down to Ming Muang Ground where many the wax castle floats were being staged.

One of the smaller carts had a Naga motif.  Photographing the wax castles was very difficult.  There were many tall spotlights illuminating the area.  Many portable lights were also set up by participants to illuminate their floats so that necessary repairs or adjustments could be made.  In addition to the light pollution, there were thousands of people milling  about often posing in front of the floats.

The conditions, while challenging, offered some opportunities ... some unique opportunities if you were patient and a bit creative.  I recognized such a situation with the Naga motif float.  By walking, squatting, and twisting in a proper combination, the background lights could be aligned to appear to be fireballs being emitted by the Naga.

The late 20th century philosopher and song writer, Mick Jagger, wrote and sang "You can't always get what you want. But if you just try sometime you find You get what you need".  This is sound advice for life as well as for photography.

Happiness and contentment are often given to you.  But if you are able to adapt and make use of what is available, you can often be happy and content.

Whining, complaining, and bemoaning your situation will often only make yourself and those about you miserable.

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