Older people become an alarm clock for their family members on the important Buddhist day, Horkhaosalak, often rising as early as 4am for the festival.
An activity not familiar to the youth of our society, it's apart of daily routine for the older generation to wake early and provide food, candy and fruit as alms to monks and novices in their community.
This is particularly true during the Horkhaosalak Festival. Members of the older generation get together to fold banana leaves for khaotom and place other offerings into baskets the day before the festival begins.
Older people in each community will go to temples to help monks decorate the centre hall, or sim, and prepare places to welcome devotees.
Offerings include fruit, sweets, dried fish and meat, salt, sugar, rice, or flowers, depending on the family. It has become the festival's symbol, passed down and practiced from generation to generation.
During the festival, markets in Vientiane are bursting with colour due to the various baskets made up by vendors and put on offer for the convenience of believers.
They believe offering these alms directly to monks and novices at temples makes merit to ancestors who have passed away to encourage their rebirth.
A monk at Ongteu temple said the custom of offering a basket to monks follows the legend of the son of a rich family whose father died when he was child. When he became an adult, his mother selected a beautiful woman to marry him.
Unfortunately she was unable to get pregnant, so her mother-in-law decided to look for a new spouse for her son. Eventually, the man's new wife became pregnant and his first wife grew afraid that this child would inherit her husband's property. To ensure that the child did not receive the inheritance, she poisoned the first as well as the second child.
During her third pregnancy, the man's second wife decided to live with her relatives, but his first wife still seeks vengeance, and gets it. Before the second wife dies, she prays to be reborn as a giant to eat her murderer's children.
The two go through several rebirths, each time seeking revenge. Until they are born in Buddha's period, the second wife is reborn as a giant and the first wife is Nang (Ms) Kulatida who marries a rich man.
When Nang Kulatida has children, the giant changes herself to a normal woman so they won't fear her. She succeeds in gobbling up Kulatida's first two children.
Upon the birth of her third child, Kulatida and her husband seek refuge from the giant at Phraxetavanmahavihan temple and ask Buddha for help.
Buddha tells Phra Anon to invite the giant standing outside to enter and listen to teachings about the mistakes of revenge. Buddha then orders Nang Kulatida and her husband to take care of the giant.
From then on, the giant is looked after by Nang Kulatida in her field. Each year the giant gives advice on planting rice. This makes Nang Kulatida's family rich from selling rice and she brings alms to the temple in a basket eight times per day.
This is one reason why Lao people respect this custom.
Aunt Keo explains with a wide smile that each year she prepares several kinds of offerings for her basket.
She joins her children on the afternoon of the festival's eve to make khaotom. The next day she gets up at 4am to cook food and prepare offerings for the important Buddhist day.
She believes that the festival is an important opportunity to apologise to ancestors, relatives and other spirits who they may have faulted in this or past lives. They request forgiveness from those spirits along with blessings of good health.
The Horkhaosalak Festival is an annual tradition, which falls on September 4 this year. The festival usually takes place after Horkhoapadapdin Festival, during the tenth month of the Buddhist calendar.
Getting up bright and early on this Friday will help you touch on Lao tradition and culture. You have an opportunity to see women wearing traditional skirts, or sinhs, combined with colourful silk blouses. Young men wear formal but stylish clothing.
They carry baskets and silver bowls with offerings on their way to temples in their communities.
At temples you can see believers put a small piece of paper into the basket, this is called Salak.
Salak means lucky draw in Lao. People coming to the temples write the names of their family members on the paper. They believe this helps to haven guardians to remember their goodness.
The baskets containing the pieces of paper will be brought to the stage where monks sit. The monks then read the names. When someone's family member is called they will bring Horkhaosalak and baskets directly to the arms of the monk.
They believe these offerings will go to their specific relative spirits.
It is common to see many people pay homage to the wisdom of Buddha.
They ask the spirits of the dead to protect their house and family and to ensure good health, even if they don't have enough time to go to the temple.
After the end of a special ceremony at 9am, monks recite the teachings of Buddha and tell the history of Buddhist Lent.
Sharing a breakfast together after monks and novices eat is also a way of building solidarity amongst the community.
From the Vientiane Times
By Ounkham Pimmata
(Latest Update September 4 , 2009)