Photographer's Note

The Shiva Lung
In the Ghost festival, in Loei, the presence of the Shiva lung, or the representation of the male penis is omnipresent. Many of the dancers carry it as the 'krador'. Traditionally it represents the penis of the Lord Shiva, the source of all fertility for Hindus. This Hindu custom survives in all of these pre-monsoon fertility festivals of North-Eastern Thailand. Many of the 'kradors' are hinged with a trigger device, like this one, so they can be made to twitch in a most suggestive way during the dancing. In this culture such things are not objects of fear or prudery as they might be elsewhere.

This Festival.
The Phi Ta Khon festival in Loei in the mountains of North-Eastern Thailand is often called the Ghost Festival. The Spirit Festival would be a better name, since the spirits summoned up are not those of dead people but the spirits of the hills, fields and forests. Its unique character is that most of the men –and today even some women- make and wear their traditional masks and colourful costumes. For two days and nights they will dance and make merry in a wild carnival. Traditionally they believed that they became possessed by the spirits and some still do (alcohol is a more likely explanation) It is wild, chaotic, exhilarating and totally unique to this tiny mountain town. The masks are made and decorated according to tradition handed down across the generations. On the Monday following, the local people assemble at the Temple, to listen to the teachings of the Lord Buddha. The attendance at this activity, though, was far smaller that at the riotous part and seems to be an attempt to connect with religion, what is, in essence, a riotous pre-Buddhist festival

South East Asian fertility Rites.
Phi Ta Khon is a fertility rite. It has nothing to do with Buddhism, but harks back to pre-Buddhist Spirit worship, which still exists in country areas. It also reflects ancient Hindu beliefs. There are similar rites held in many parts of Isarn (the Laoisian speaking Northwestern Region) around this time. The most well known being Bung Ban Fai or, the Rocket Festivals, held in many communities, but most notably Yatsothorn and Roi Et. These festivals feature home made rockets but do not use masks as the Loei dancers do, They are held in many places and take place before the start of the monsoon. The idea is to awaken the spirits to send the rain. Rain is a matter of life of death here. These rites are not dissimilar to the Western traditions of Carnival and Mardi Gras. They are so deeply embedded in the cultures of these areas that they thrive despite the arrival of Buddhism and the age of technology. They are all different but share certain characteristics.
These include…
wild dancing and drinking.
Processions of the different communities, showing the tradition and skills.
Man stripping off and painting their bodies black. To dance for the spirits.
Men dressing as women in a humorous way.
Men covering their bodies in mud.
Processions of pretty girls and handsome boys.
The cult of the male penis. The phallic symbol.
Bawdiness as related to fertility.

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Additional Photos by kevin o'sheehan (kevinos) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1023 W: 173 N: 1802] (7517)
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