Boon Berk Bahn Photo Essay

These photos are from the Boon Berk Bahn (บุญเบิกบ้าน) ceremony in Ban Kham Aw village, Udon Thani province on February 7, 2019. Thanks to Mae Wong and her family for being great hosts.

This village doesn’t celebrate either Boon Khun Lan or Boon Khao Jee as individual ceremonies, but this event (aka Boon Duean Sahm, the “Third Month Merit-Making Tradition”) includes features from both. For more information see the overview of heet sip-song, the twelve Isan merit-making traditions. Note that some villages use the name Boon Berk Bahn for Boon Samha, but that is unrelated.


Preparation of the offerings to the spirits and the monks began the day before. Each family cooks some food, ties bark from a banana plant into a kratong basket, and makes little clay figurines.

making kratong before Boon Berk Bahn
clay figurines for Boon Berk Bahn

Up at 5am, the next morning started with making more food. Two in particular, both grilled over charcoal, are khao jee, sticky rice coated in beaten egg (it’s the namesake of Boon Khao Jee) and khao griap, a crispy flatbread made of sticky rice flour and pounded skunk vine (Paederia linearis) root.

grilling khao griap flatbread at Boon Berk Bahn
grilled khao jee sticky rice with egg at Boon Berk Bahn
plate with khao jee and khao griap at Boon Berk Bahn

People also soaked flowers to make scented water and filled their kratong with food. There’s no standard menu for the kratong, each family chooses their own foods. Mae Wong gave khao jee and khao griap, white and black sticky rice, fermented fish sauce (bplaa raa), chili, banana, orange, grapes, grilled muu yang pork, fried fish, kanom chan and kanom tian (two Thai sweet snacks), fried dough, khao mao (a snack of unripe rice and coconut), a cigarette, and a betel set – and this differed little from the many other kratong.

putting food in kratong before Boon Berk Bahn
three kratong filled with food at Boon Berk Bahn

Each family took some unhusked rice from this season’s harvest out of their rice silo, which cannot be opened between the time the new rice goes in and today’s ceremony. Also showing how important this rice blessing is, every family’s silo had a white string physically linking it to the spot in the middle of the village where the blessing takes place. After the rice was gathered, everything was loaded up and taken (in this village many families used a push carts) to the village pillar shrine.

man opening silo at Boon Berk Bahn
getting rice out of a silo for Boon Berk Bahn
getting rice out of a silo for Boon Berk Bahn
basket of rice for Boon Berk Bahn
taking things through the village on a cart to celebrate Boon Berk Bahn
taking things on a cart next to the highway to celebrate Boon Berk Bahn

The Ceremonies

At the gathering place, people handed off their food to the people managing the monks’ morning meal and laid their kratong, clay figurines, scented water buckets, and rice – the four main features of the day’s festivities – on the ground. The kratong are for any spirits (ancestors or others) who come to join and the clay figurines, set alongside the pillar shrine, are sort of an annual census so the village’s guardian spirt knows how many people are in each household and what animals and vehicles they have. One human figure is given for each person but just one chicken, duck, buffalo, motorcycle, truck, etc. if the family has any of these things no matter how many. Ban Kham Aw is a pottery village and as far as anybody here knows this area is the only place where this activity is done with clay figurines.

putting food for monks on plates at Boon Berk Bahn
making rice pile at Boon Berk Bahn
man putting kratong and scented water bucket on the ground at Boon Berk Bahn
dozens of kratong on the ground at Boon Berk Bahn
placing clay figurines on the ground at Boon Berk Bahn
clay figurines for Boon Berk Bahn

When the monks arrived and took their seats, everyone lined up to put food in their alms bowls (including the khao jee and khao griap) and then the formalities began with an offering to the Buddha; a little one brought to here just for the ceremony since this isn’t a temple. Then the monks led suat-mon chants and a gruat nam water blessing ceremony (for passing merit onto one’s ancestors) before being served huge trays of the food brought by the villagers.

putting food in monks' bowls at Boon Berk Bahn
monks holding sacred thread at Boon Berk Bahn
monk blessing people with water at Boon Berk Bahn
pouring water on a tree to give merit to ancestors at Boon Berk Bahn
monks eating off of big trays at Boon Berk Bahn
plate with khao jee and fruit at Boon Berk Bahn
people eating at Boon Berk Bahn

Breakfast over, the monks headed back to the temple and a maw kwan (shaman) took over the ceremony to lead the rice blessing. Called su kwan khao, it’s a show of gratitude and respect to the spirits who helped with the recent rice harvest and involves a bai sii placed atop the rice pile. After thanking the spirits, people tied sai sin sacred white threads around each other’s wrists for good luck and health, and each family took a handful or a small bag of rice from the pile. The remaining rice is given to the monks, although it’s semi-symbolic: in practice the village sells the rice and gives the money to the temple.

blessing rice with a bai sii at Boon Berk Bahn
rice blessing ceremony with bai sii on top of rice pile at Boon Berk Bahn
bai sii on a rice pile at Boon Berk Bahn
man tying sai sin sacred thread on man's wrist at Boon Berk Bahn
man tying sai sin sacred thread on man's wrist at Boon Berk Bahn
holding a handful of rice at Boon Berk Bahn

Back at Home

Back at home, people sprinkled their house with the now sacred scented water (and some also bathed with it), tossed the blessed rice they took off the pile into their silo, and dumped a few buckets of natural fertilizer from cows or buffalo (if a family doesn’t raise any they’ll get some from a neighbor) in their rice paddy.

man opening silo at Boon Berk Bahn
man pouring rice into silo after Boon Berk Bahn
taking fertilizer to a rice field after Boon Berk Bahn
pouring fertilizer into a rice field after Boon Berk Bahn

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