September 13, 2014
Festival of Offerings to the Dead (Sart Thai) วันสาทรไทย
When: Annualy around the 1st waning-moon night to the 15th waning-moon night in the 10th Lunar month (1st October 2016 – 19th Oct 2017)
Where: Across the Kingdom
Offering food to the dead is a common practice in Asia, 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 provinces.
Sart Thai also known as Sat Thai
For centuries this time of year is when the crops are at their most bountiful, it is also when families come together, to celebrate the return of the deceased to this world, so they can feast with their living relatives. These wondering spirits are only allowed to visit their relatives once each year and only for a short while, having to return to from where they came, before sunrise of the 15th day.
To feed their dead relatives and other spirits that they are not related to, Thai people will visit their local temple to make Merit and will invite these spirits to dine with them in their homes.
The Thai people have a strong belief in ghosts and the spirit world, especially in ‘Preta’ also known as Praet, Peta or a “Hungry ghost”, who are one of the six modes of existence in the Buddhist ‘Wheel of Life’. Hungry ghosts or ‘Preta’ – ‘departed ones’ in Hindu language of Sanskrit, are pitiable creatures with huge, empty stomachs and pinhole mouths; their necks are so thin they cannot swallow, so they remain hungry. It is believed that people are reborn as hungry ghosts because of their greed, envy and jealousy in their prior life.
Food offered during the event
Special dishes of food are made during the 15 days of the festival, with each having an individual meaning:
- The first is Phong, representing a vehicle that will take the spirits to heaven
- The second is La, as clothing for the dead
- Thirdly is Kong as an accessory
- Fourth is Di Sam, which is believed to be used as money by the dead.
- Then there is Ba given as a tool for playing Songkran. There is a belief among the older people that one should also add La Loy, to act as both a bed and pillow.
The majority of the above are dried food snacks and therefore can be kept for a long time.
Other dishes that are commonly seen during the Sart rite, differ across Thailand, however, they are almost always made from rice. The major dish is called “Krayasart” prepared from sticky rice, bean, sugar and sesame, which is cooked into a paste and then wrapped in a banana leaf.
Cooked food is taken to the temples to be offered to the monks, along with other items the monks will need in their daily lives. Later the monks will conduct a rite, which is completed once libation water is poured and the monks have chanted the Dedication of the Transference of Merit to benefit all spirits, and especially the deceased relatives who are still in the realm of the living.
It is believed that all the spirits should be given sufficient food and water, to fulfill their needs during their transition, and that the merit assists them to move toward favorable rebirth.
In eons past, this time of year was called simply the ‘First Planting’ or ‘First Rice’, over centuries beliefs across the Kingdom were infused with the Hindu religion and the event took on a part of the Hinduism tradition of the ‘Pali’, Sarada Merit Making ceremony (‘sarada’, meaning “autumn season”) in which a rice pudding called Kheer is offered to Ganesha the elephant god.
Ghost Festivals across the Kingdom
In the South of Thailand the festival is known as งานบุญเดือนสิบ (ngan boon duan sib) also called ประเพณีสารทเดือนสิบ (bra pae nee sat duan sib) or Festival of the Tenth Lunar Month (ประเพณีเทศกาลเดือนสิบ). 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, the most common name for the festival held Loei province Northeast Thailand, which takes place over three days, some-time between June and July. The Khmer descendents of Isaan also have their own festival; San Don Ta Festival, which takes place late September-early October 2016. While in Central Thailand, the festival is known as the Tiggkrahad Festival, also known as Thing Krachat (งานเทศกาลทิ้งกระจาด).
There are also a number of uniquely ethnic festivals that also contain the same principles of praying to dead relatives they include the Mon people who celebrate, The Mon Floating Boat Festival and their neighbours in Kanchanaburi, the Karen people who have their festival of Khao Ho or Ang Mi Thong. Plus the Khmer people in Northeast Thailand and their San Don Ta Festival and the Yong people of Northern Thailand and their Salak Yom Festival. The Khmer descendants of Isan have their San Don Ta Festival, which is also a reminder of the Killing Fields of Cambodia
It is possibly the combination of this jumble of names, the confusion with Chinese and lesser known tribes within the Kingdom, plus the fact that Sat Thai Day usually corresponds with the beginning of the nine-day Vegetarian Festival, this purely Thai festival of Sart Thai is little known to non-Thai’s.
As is very common in the Kingdom where there is such a diversity in culture, beliefs and ethnicity, there are many similarities in the festivals that are held across its shores, one thing they all do have in common is the warmth of the people and their desire to enjoy themselves during these events.
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