In May, people throughout Thailand and Laos, celebrate Bun Bang Fai, also known as the Rocket Festival. It’s a ceremony traditionally practiced near the beginning of the rainy season and is believed to bring the rains so that rice planting can begin.
Large bamboo rockets are built and decorated by monks and villagers and carried in procession before being blasted skywards to let the rain God Phaya Thaen know it is time to send the rains. The higher the rocket goes, the bigger the praise for its builder. If your rocket fails, you’re thrown in the mud.
The event dates back to pre-Buddhist times and is based on the notion that launching bamboo rockets to the sky will initiate the rainy season. Traditionally, rockets are constructed out of bamboos and stuffed with gunpowder, but today, many different materials are used. The larger rockets often reach altitudes of several kilometers and can travel dozens of kilometers down range.
The Myth of the Toad King
According to the myth, the origins of the Rocket Festival lies in the Myth of the Toad King. It is said that there once was a King and Queen who gave birth to a son. They loved their son, but the son looked like a toad. When the boy came of age, he asked his father to give him a palace and to find him a woman to become his wife. The father said that “no woman is going to marry someone who looks like a toad”.
The son appealed to the Rain God, who gave him a grand palace and a beloved wife. They lived happily for many years as king and queen. Unfortunately, the son – now known as the Toad King – forgot to pay tribute to the Rain God, creating a long period of drought.
The Toad King built a bridge to heaven and led all animals across it to fight the Rain God. After a long battle, the Toad King won and the Rain God promised to bring rain every year. But as a reminder, after a period of drought, each year people need to shoot rockets into the sky.