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Hor Khaopadapdin , feeding spirits in the darkness

Monday marked the 15th day of the ninth month in the Lao lunar calendar on the waning moon which is believed to be the day spirits are released and the appropriate time to feed them.

Many people believe the gatekeeper of hell releases spirits on this one day a year which always falls around the middle of August. When released, the spirits will ascend to earth and search for the packets of food that their relatives have prepared and left out for them.

Traditional food parcels wrapped in banana leaves.

This is a special time for feeding spirits and also to show love, longing, respect, and gratitude to the dead, ancestors and guardians.

This occasion is marked as the Boun Hor Khaopadapdin or Hor Khaopadapdin festival and people nationwide enjoy taking part in this annual ritual.

As always, festival participants woke up very early in the morning and eagerly carried their Hor Khaopadapdin (traditionally made food packets) to place outside of houses, on the roadside and at the feet of stupas and walls in temples.

Candles and incense sticks are lit beside the food packets with a silent prayer to invite the spirits of relatives and ancestors to receive the food in the darkness because it's believed they are only allowed to go out before sunrise.

It is believed the spirits will be very disappointed if they don't find any food and have to go hungry. In the worst case they might not get anything, making them sad or angry.

So, on this festival day families make it their mission to wake up in the wee hours in order to serve the spirits on time. They believe the spirits of ancestors who have not returned to be born again are still detained suffering in hell while some roam the earth hungry, waiting for help from relatives, friends or someone else.

Some people without deceased family and friends also like to feed the spirits to make merit and relieve their suffering.

Mr Sonepheth Vannalath, a resident of Haisok village in Chanthabouly district said he woke up at 2am to eagerly put out food parcels.

“I enjoy doing this with my mother, brothers and sisters. We place about 50 packets of food prepared by ourselves around the community and village temple, inviting the spirits to receive it and bless them to relieve their sufferings,” he said.

“I am very happy and proud to follow this fine tradition by providing food parcels for my deceased relatives. It's a very important tradition which has been practised for generations and we should continue to preserve it.”

Ms Chanhome Khadxaisy, a resident of Dongnaxok village in Sikhottabong district, said she annually led her children in the tradition of feeding spirits and always felt happy making merit.

“We had to wake up very early in the morning and left the house to distribute our food parcels because it's believed the controller of hell will release spirits once a year to come out and find the food,” she explained.

“We feed the recently departed, ancestors and general spirits. If we don't, our relatives may not get any food and wi ll be very hungry and cry. By feeding them, they may help us in our daily lives somehow.”

“Of course, we cannot see if they really come or not. Many people say they always dream about their dead relatives asking for food or help before festival day.”

Hor Khaopadabdin like other festivals is a very important event for Lao people nationwide including me. It's part of our valued heritage which our ancestors bequeathed us.”

“Festivals are a good opportunity for us to make merit and dedicate offerings to our ancestors, especially deceased parents, grandparents and other relatives, who will benefit from our donated merit and offerings.”

Buddhists in Laos enjoy following and preserving this tradition of giving alms to monks and others, and also dedicating merit to the spirits.

A few days before the festival, families assemble the materials to make their food parcels and prepare other offerings to present to the monks and earn merit for their deceased relatives.

They make Hor Khaopadapdin with banana leaves and fill them with rice, fruit and other food while some people place flowers, candles and incense in each of the carefully assembled packets.

The day also marks the annual boat racing festival in Luang Prabang province and the official start of boat races in Laos, which take place from now until just after Buddhist Lent.


By Visith Teppalath
(Latest Update August 23 , 2017 )

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