Meeting at the Alliance Franšaise, Chiang
Mai: “Rituals of allegiance, hierarchy, inclusiveness, change? The
Vessantara Festival (Bun Pha Wet) in Isan and Laos”.
11 December 2018.
A Talk by Leedom
The Bun Phra Wet (the Festival Celebrating the Merit made by
Prince Vessantara, that we make today) is the product of the
distinctive evolution of Theravada Buddhism in Thai-Lao and Lao culture
and these people’s places in their respective colonial, subaltern,
social organizations. The ceremony expounds on some of the many
meanings inherent in the epic Vessantara Jataka.
usually a community’s households, organizes a Bun Phra Wet to host
visitors and returnees, of whom the exiled Prince and his family are
foremost. Holding the Bun requires a community’s radical
reconfiguration as a mueang, fit for royalty. It also involves a joyful
procession welcoming Phra Wet and his wife, Matsi, back to their
kingdom. Finally, the recitation ending the Bun includes the assurance
that since we are alive today as The Buddha’s associates, we were then
members of the Prince’s royal city and thus are assured of rebirth in
the future time of Maitreya.
Where does this ritual leave the
people? Is this a religious ceremony, having nothing to do with
“today’s world”? Or is it a statement of the rights of community
members? Or a pledge of allegiance to monarchy? Does the ritual
reinforce the necessary distinction between ruler and ruled, or does it
provide a mechanism for redressing inequities?
will attempt to explore these complexities and provide ways for
understanding the epic and some of its implications..
Lefferts, PhD, University of Colorado, 1974; Professor of Anthropology,
Emeritus, Drew University (New Jersey, USA); currently Research
Collaborator, Carolina Asia Center, The University of North Carolina
(USA). Research in Isan since 1970 (BE2515), Laos and Vietnam since,
1989, Cambodia since 1992. Research topics: village cultural ecology
and social organization, material culture (Tai textiles with Dr.
Gittinger, Mainland SEA indigenous ceramics with Ms Louise Allison
Cort), Thai-Lao & Lao Theravada Buddhism and the Bun Phra Wet (with
Dr. Sandra Cate).
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