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Phi Ta Khon Listed as One of Thailand’s National Treasures in 2013

November 30, 2013 Destination Thailand No Comments Email Email

13328215837pThe Department of Cultural Promotion, under the Ministry of Culture, has registered Phi Ta Khon, or the Ghost Festival, as one of Thailand’s cultural heritage items in 2013.
The registration is intended to prepare Thailand for the ratification of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in the future.

The Ministry of Culture will submit Thailand’s Intangible Cultural Heritage draft legislation to the Cabinet for consideration in order to support the country’s ratification of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

In 2013, the Department of Cultural Promotion has registered 68 items in Thailand’s national treasures, which are divided into seven areas: performing arts, craftsmanship, literature, sports, social rituals and festivals, knowledge and practices about nature and the universe, and language.

Phi Ta Khon is listed in the social rituals and festivals category. Regarded as one of the most famous festivals in Thailand, it is held in June or July in the northeastern province of Loei. Phi Ta Khon is an important folk and merit-making event in Dan Sai district. Many Thais from other areas of the country and foreign visitors also come to enjoy this merry occasion each year. This festival is combined with Bun Bang Fai, or the Rocket Festival. Bun Bang Fai is a rainmaking rite and is also meant to worship the guardian of the city pillar. The rite is believed to bring about abundant rain, good crops, and happiness.

This event features the procession of participants wearing ugly but colorful ghost masks with very pointy noises. Some people believe that the festival is called Phi Ta Khon because participants in the procession of ghosts wear masks resembling khon masks. The participants are male youths and adults. They dress up as spirits in costumes with holes large enough to put their hands through.

The art of making Phi Ta Khon masks has been passed on from generation to generation. In the old days, the fearful masks were made of coconut trunks painted with bright colors. Today, they are made of hard paper with a hat made of a glutinous rice bamboo container worn upside down. The Phi Ta Khon Festival takes place over two days. Some people compare this festival to Halloween for Western people.

Apart from Phi Ta Khon, among other cultural heritage items listed as national treasures in 2013 are Lam That, which is a communal performance; Hom Mali rice, or Thai jasmine rice; Khao Lam, or sticky rice cooked in a hollowed-out bamboo stalk; and Pha Khao Ma, or loincloth.

The Ministry of Culture stressed the need to safeguard the nation’s cultural heritage and create a database of heritage items for the younger generation, in order to preserve them and prevent them from disappearing from local communities.

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