The Mekong River is the longest river in Laos. It also passes through Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, and China. The Mekong River has given many advantages to Lao people for many centuries, since Lao people moved from northern China. We use the river for many things in our daily life. For example, we grew food on the banks of the river, we can catch fish, and we use it for cleaning. These are some of the benefits we get from it. However, there is something mysterious which makes the Mekong River different from other rivers. What is this mystery which has stayed with Lao people’s minds for along time? It is the nagas that they live under Mekong River.
The naga is the sacred mythical animal which looks like a snake. It is long and powerful with green scales. Nagas were sacred snakes who protected the Buddha since 2500 B.C. Because of one part of Buddhism, Lao people and the people in the Isan region or Northeast Thailand believe that Nagas are still alive. Why? Should I believe them? Yes, because I have seen it with my eyes, which is why I want to open the secret together with you.
Let’s go back to the history. Nagas are half sacred spirit and snake, which means if you are people who live in this world, you always do good things, help people, believe in Buddhism, you always do meditation. Then, before you die, you wish in your heart that if you die, you wish to born as a Naga. Later when you die, your good behavior will not die, and it will lead you to be reincarnated depending on what you wish.
Like snakes, nagas can live on land and in the water. It is a sacred animal, which can be human sometimes, and then it will change to snake again. So, this is why humans can’t see it with their eyes. These sacred animals can see only people who are enlightened in nagas and believe in Buddhism, or who live near the Mekong River. This happens especially after Buddhist lent during the full moon in October (according to the lunar calendar, it could be October or November). At this time, many people in Laos and Northeast Thailand will prepare food, drink, and money. Then, they will travel to Mekong Riverbank to see the famous naga fireball.
In Laos we can see the naga fireball at Pakgyrem village in Borlikhamsay province. It is about 30 km from Vientiane on South Highway 13. Pakgyrem village is the place where the Gyrem River and Mekong River meet each other, which is why you can see two colors of water, in green and orange. So, every year many people go there. For instance, some go with their family, girlfriends or friends to see the naga fireballs.
Why do nagas burn the fireball during the full moon of October? Because once there was a naga who was enlightened in Buddhism. So, he came out of the cave under the Mekong River to the land where humans lived. He changed from a big snake to the handsome man and went to a temple in order to ask the Buddha to be a monk. It was permitted and he became a monk. Then, one day he slept, and his body became the snake. Finally, he had to stop being a monk because he was an animal.
The naga cried and told the Buddha that he was enlightened in Buddhism, which is why he did like that. Therefore, the naga said: “If I can’t be a monk, please take the name of Naga into Buddhism. Furthermore, after the Buddhist lent in October, Nagas will burn the fireball in order to worship the Buddha every year.” In other words, they are happy that the Buddhist monks gets out of long meditation, which is why we can see the incredible fire balls only October in full moon night. This is history.
During the celebration after the Buddhist monks finish three months of meditation, on that night many shops sell foods and drinks spread along the Mekong riverbank. Moreover, there also have fireworks, and the villagers will make a boat made of a banana tree that looks like the naga, which is decorated with candles and flowers to worship the Nagas.
Then, villagers go to the river together to float these little boats and welcome the nagas. Under Mekong River the nagas will create the fireballs. Suddenly, about 9 PM, you will see the naga’s fireball in red with a little pink. About 2, or up to 20, fireballs come out of the water and fly up to the sky; and then disappear. This celebration last until midnight, then people will stop and go back home.