Boon Khao Sak Photo Essay

These photos are from the Boon Khao Sak (บุญข้าวสาก) celebration in Ban Khok Sawang, Waeng Yai district, Khon Kaen province on September 24, 2018. Special thanks to Yai Lune and Mae Saithip for taking such good care of us in the village. For more information, there’s an explanation of Boon Khao Sak and an overview of heet sip-song, the twelve Isan merit-making traditions.

Early morning activities at the temple were no different than those done every two weeks for monk days, except that there was more food for the monk (at this time only one monk was residing there) than usual. Before eating, the monk led a regular Thai Buddhist suat-mon chanting and prayer session and then the people did their regular gruat nam ceremony, passing merit onto their ancestors by pouring holy water onto the ground next to a tree. A few people also put banana leaf-wrapped food packages for their ancestors by the temple’s bodhi tree, but again, this was part of their regular monk day activities, not something special for Boon Khao Sak.

monk eating with many food trays next to him
people listening to a monk preaching
woman pouring water on the ground next to a tree

When the morning’s monk day activities were done, people headed home to prepare more food, all of it wrapped in banana leaves except the namesake khao sak (krayasat in Thai language) sweetened puffed rice snack, which was put in plastic bags for convenience. A lot of time went into preparing the food so much of the work was done the day before.

fish cooking on a charcoal grill
woman wrapping fish in a banana leaf
food on unwrapped banana leaves
woman roasting puffed rice
woman winnowing puffed rice
puffed rice popping in a pan
puffed rice in a winnowing basket
krayasat puffed rice snack in bags

Back at the temple in the late morning, the food baskets were blessed via sacred thread and then the ancestors were called to come take their family’s food packages back to the spirit world, ending their two-week residence on earth that began during Boon Khao Pradap Din.

monk blessing food

In Ban Khok Sawang the food for the ancestors was not laid out around the temple grounds as is the norm throughout most of Isan; it remained in the meeting hall. This is because after the ancestors have provisioned themselves from the baskets, the same food will be divided up and offered to the rice field spirits.

People opened the banana-leaf packages and gathered each particular food item together on trays and it got a second blessing. Then more holy water was poured for a second round of gruat nam, this one specifically for Boon Khao Sak.

women unwrapping food from banana-leaf wrappers
rattan food baskets
women in white pouring holy water

With the ceremonies done, it was time for the monk to eat his mid-day meal. The people of Ban Khok Sawang do not follow the tradition of drawing lots to see which monk gets which family’s offerings. This is not because having only one monk makes the practice pointless, it’s not done anywhere else in the region either no matter how many monks are at the temple; and hasn’t been done within the memory of anyone we talked to.

While the monk ate, the people repacked their baskets. Everyone’s food was mixed together so while each family gives thanks at their own field, the offering came from all. Each basket contained sticky rice, chili dip, grilled fish, Thai eggplant, squash, sweet potato, fresh and dried chilies, fermented fish sauce, salt, krayasat, over a dozen varieties of fruits, cigarettes, and betel.

food in rattan baskets
women putting food into wicker baskets
women putting food into wicker baskets

Finally each family took their basket out to one of their rice paddies to give the food to the rice field spirits.

woman walking between rice fields
woman in rice field making food offering to spirits

Boon Khao Kam (Month 1)
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Boon Khun Lan (Month 2)
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Boon Khao Jee (Month 3)
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Boon Pha Wet (Month 4)
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Boon Songkran (Month 5)
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Boon Bang Fai (Month 6)
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Boon Samha (Month 7)
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Boon Khao Phansa (Month 8)
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Boon Khao Pradap Din (Month 9)
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Boon Khao Sak (Month 10)
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Boon Ok Phansa (Month 11)
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Boon Kathin (Month 12)
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