Thailand // The central plains //

The Festival of the Holy Footprint

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During the dry season in January, February and March, a million pilgrims from all over the country flock to Wat Phra Phutthabat for the Ngan Phrabat (Festival of the Holy Footprint), when other pilgrims are making their way to the other major religious sites at Doi Suthep, Nakhon Si Thammarat and That Phanom. During the fair, which reaches its peak in two week-long lunar periods, one usually at the beginning of February, the other at the beginning of March, stalls selling souvenirs and traditional medicines around the entrance swell to form a small town, and traditional entertainments, magic shows and a Ferris wheel are laid on. The fair is still a major religious event, but before the onset of industrialization it was the highlight of social and cultural life for all ages and classes; it was an important place of courtship, for example, especially for women at a time when their freedom was limited. Another incentive for women to attend the fair was the belief that visiting the footprint three times would ensure a place in heaven – for many women, the Phrabat Fair became the focal point of their lives, as Buddhist doctrine allowed them no other path to salvation. Up to the reign of Rama V (1868–1910) even the king used to come, performing a ritual lance dance on elephant-back to ensure a long reign.

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