August 26, 2015
Festival of Offerings to the Dead (Sat Thai) วันสาทรไทย
While not widely known out-side of Thailand and at times confused, with the more famous Chinese, ‘Hungry Ghost Festival’ (known to Thai’s as the Por Tor Festival), this purely Thai occasion, is celebrated across the Kingdom but is known by different names in the differing regions and is sometimes, mistakenly thought to be the start of the ‘Vegetarian Festival’, that also occurs around the same time in the Thai lunar calendar. (Both festivals coincide with the period when farms produce their biggest crops)
When: August – September
Where: Across Thailand
Sat Thai (Thai: สารทไทย, also spelled Sart Thai) is a traditional Thai mid-year festival, held on the new moon at the end of the tenth lunar month. It has many features of animism, attributing souls or spirits to animals, plants and other entities, such as amulets and natural features.
In the South of Thailand the festival is known as งานบุญเดือนสิบ (ngan boon duan sib) also called ประเพณีสารทเดือนสิบ (bra pae nee sat duan sib). In the North the name of the festival is ประเพณีตานก๋วยสลาก (bra pae nee da guay sla).
In Isaan it is called การทำบุญแจกข้าว (gan tam boon jag khao), this Isaan festival should not be confused with Phi Ta Khon (also spelled Pee Ta Khon ผีตาโขน), the most common name for a group of festivals held in Dan Sai, Loei province, as this event takes place over three days some-time between March and July, the dates being selected annually by the town’s mediums (see picture below).
While in Central Thailand it is not a specific celebration, as in the other parts of Thailand and does not have a different name, in turn is not that commonly celebrated, it is simply known as Sart Thai. It is possibly the combination of this jumble of names and the confusion with both the Chinese celebration and that of Phi Ta Khon that makes this purely Thai festival little known to non-Thai’s.
The festival can go until the third day of the waxing of the eleventh lunar month. Traditionally it is a time for families to come together and visit their local temple, to give offerings to their deceased relatives and to other deceased people, to whom they are not related. Thai people have a strong belief in ghosts and the spirit world, especially in ‘Preta’ also known as Praet and Peta, (see picture above), these are giant ghosts with small mouths who are always hungry.
Offerings to the Spirits
The offerings are made up in part by a selection of different food dishes, each of which has a special individual meaning. (The majority of these are dried food snacks and therefore can be kept for a long time).
The first is Phong, representing a vehicle that will take the spirits to heaven. The second is La, clothing for the dead, then there is Kong. Fourth is Di Sam, which is believed to be used as money by the dead. Lastly there is Ba given as a tool for playing Songkran.
There is a strong belief among the older people, that one should also add La Loy, to act as both a bed and pillow.
While Thailand has very close historical links with China and there are similarities to the Chinese Hungry Ghost festival (similar in the way food is offered to the deceased relatives and other dead), this is not a Chinese festival, but a regional Thai festival. Celebrations are bigger in the South, especially in Nakhon Si Thammarat. The 12th through 14th days of the waning of the 10th lunar month, are the most important in the festival.
It is here in the South that there are very large parades, fairs, cultural shows and other activities. It is also here that the food and snacks offered to the Pret’s (commonly known as the Ching Pret ceremony), are placed on very tall posts to enable the ghosts to get to them.
If you are lucky enough to be here in the Kingdom during this period you will witness first-hand the spiritual side of the Thai people and their strong beliefs in both ghosts and spirits