Your Guide to Funeral Planning | 06.21.2023

Boon Para Wate: Thailand’s Very Own Day Of The Dead

Boon Para Wate: Thailand’s Very Own Day Of The Dead

Reviewed By: Joshua Siegel

Cross Checked By: Elizabeth Siegel

Boon Para Wate - An Overview

All over the world, people in different countries have their own traditions to celebrate and honor their dearly departed. In Thailand, this custom finds expression in Boon Para Wate — which is Thailand’s very own version of the Day of the Dead. Boon Para Wate traces its origins back to Thailand’s Buddhist past. Even today, the festival is widely celebrated as a Buddhist holiday in many parts of the country. 

Although the origin of this festival could be more transparent, many people believe that it can be attributed to a specific story in the Vessantara Jataka, which is one of the most famous Buddhist literary texts prevailing today. This tale narrates the story of Buddha, who is said to have lived one of his earlier lives as a prince. Following a long and harrowing journey, the prince was eventually believed to be dead by the people of the kingdom. However, he is said to have returned later, much to the joy of his subjects. The resulting celebrations were believed to have caused so much of an uproar that they went on to awaken the dead. Thus, the festival of Boon Para Wate was born. 

A Closer Look At Boon Para Wate Celebrations In Thailand Today

This Buddhist festival to honor the dead and departed is typically celebrated in Thailand between the months of May and July. The entire celebration lasts for a period of three days, with each day having its own specific program. 

The highlight of the first day of the Boon Para Wate holiday is a parade that is held with all fanfare. It includes a musical procession where the young people of the country dress up in colorful costumes and sport extremely elaborate masks. Made of the thick stems of palm leaves, known as sheaths, these masks are elaborately and intricately painted by artists for the festival. The upper segments of these masks are made from bamboo baskets used to steam sticky rice. 

The costumes are particularly vibrant, with long strings of bells attracted to the belt to jingle as the parade participants dance. These disguises are believed to represent the spirits of the departed. The young people of the country, thus dressed up, play humorous and harmless pranks and practical jokes on the villagers as a part of the Boon Para Wate celebration.

Then, on the second day, more dances, parades, and musical events are held. There are also contests and competitions among the villagers. By the end of the second day, the torches lit during the celebrations are extinguished to signify the end of the parades and processions and to prepare for the third day of the festival. 

The third day is when the Buddhist link in the Boon Para Wate holiday becomes evident. On this day, the villagers gather for sermons from the religious monks in their regions. The addresses delve into the last incarnation of the Buddha. With that, the celebration of the Boon Para Wate festival in Thailand comes to a close.

The Global Phenomenon Of Celebrating The Dead

Boon Para Wate is the Thai version of the global phenomenon of honoring the dead. Many other countries have similar festivals and celebrations. The most famous among these, perhaps, is Halloween, which is traditionally celebrated in the United States of America, and the Mexican festival Día de los Muertos. China also has a similar festival called Chingming or Tomb Sweeping Day. Along the same lines, Brazil has Día dos Finados, Japan has Obon or the lantern day, India has Mahalaya Amavasya, and Ireland has Samhain. While the names and dates may vary across the world, the sentiment remains common — honoring the dead and remembering them with love.