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Yipeng Festival
Rocket Making
            At the approach of the Yipeng festival, some temples and houses of the experts make home-made rockets to pay respect to the Buddha and his hair relic or to mark the Grand Sermon of Maha Chat and for the children to play with. Rocket firing can add excitement and fun to the festival. Lanna rockets (bokfai) come in a variety of styles. This includes shooting rockets, bokfai khaotom, bokfai muen, bokfai khuen, bokfai chakchan, bokfai dao, bokfai dok, bokfai namton, bokfai makhibao, bofai changrong and bokfai thian. Children also enjoy shooting firecrackers and other noise making devices to announce the Yipeng Festival.
            Of course, the popular kind is the one the gives a spectacular bright light against the backdrop of the nighttime. Rockets are fired from dusk onward. Popular ones are bokfai ying (shooting), bokfai khaotom, bokfai dok (flowers), bokfai dao (stars), bokfai bakhibao or bok fai namton (water jar). Each kind has certain ingredients and formula depending on each expert or artisan (Sla Khanto Inthonklaeo, Interview, Nov. 5, 2008).

Types of Firing Rockets
            Sla Khanto Inthonklaeo (Interview, Nov. 5, 2008); president of the Rocket Conservation Group of Ban Sansai Tonkok, Tambon Faham, Chiang Mai gave an account of the methods for making rockets in the past. Things used were garlic peels/shells, coconut residue, charcoal, steamed glutinous rice, all are pulverized and mixed wit potassium nitrate and the powder (carbon deposits) from scraping a frying pan mixed with sesame oil. Until 15 years ago, ground metal parts from airplane wheels and potassium chloride were used instead.

            The Bokfai Ying is a small rocket made by packing gunpowder into a small wooden cylinder 8" long and inserting a fuse through a hole. Sometimes it is called "bokfai luknu". It is popular for firing in various festivals like New Year, Yipeng and Maha Chat sermon (Anon Chairat, personal communication, Nov. 1, 2008). There is also a competition of who can fire it as far as 9 meters or the closest to a specified distance. Those that go further than that will be considered disqualified.

            The Bokfai Khaotom also comes in a small size and is popular among children.  It is simply made by wrapping a handful of gunpowder in a dry sheet of banana trunk or leaf and placing a fuse at on end and tied tightly with a string to form a bundle before attaching it to a stem of a coconut leaf.  When the fuse is lit, the bundle will be thrown up high by swinging the coconut stem and when the fire reaches the gunpowder, it will shoot out far and very high upward.

            The Bokfai Dok and Bokfai Bakhibao (Namton) These two types require the same ingredients. The difference lies in the type of container and the amount of gunpowder. To make a Bokfai Dok, a bamboo cylinder or an empty spray can is usually used. The container used for Bokfai Bakhibao is a small clay jar (ong) from which its name is derived.

The Bokfai Dok has more gunpowder so it can flare up higher and spread sparks over a wider area (Khantho Inthonklaeo, personal communication, Nov. 5, 2008). Both types are lit during the Yipeng festival as they give a beautiful shower of light similar to what is described in the Vessandon episode. People take this opportunity to pray for their life to be sparkling and bright like the flares.

            The Bokfai Dok is not a dangerous kind so many temples in the north can make them. The gunpowder formula has been improved through years of experimentation by monks and novices to produce the most beautiful and dramatic results. This kind of fireworks comes in two categories: the beautiful one and the exciting or thrilling one.

             The beautiful kind is judged by its production of a beautiful flare with lots of sparks spreading around wildly. The gunpowder is composed of potassium nitrate, fine powder from car exhaust, sulfur and charcoal or carbon deposit mixed and pressed into a container and sealed with dry clay. The container is buried in the ground tightly with the top part barely appearing above the ground level so that the fuse can be put in.

             The thrilling kind requires more powerful gunpowder to create a loud noise. The fire also goes higher and spreads wider than the beautiful kind. The gunpowder is composed of potassium nitrate finely ground and mixed with iron powder from some ironsmith factory or a lathe shop and sulfur as well as carbon deposits or charcoal powder. The mixture weighing approximately 5-10 kilograms is pressed tightly into a bamboo cylinder or an iron pipe before being buried in the ground. The fuse is lit and dropped into the top hole.

            Bokhai Bakhibao (Makkhibao) Also referred to as bokfai namtao, bokfai namton and bokfai ong, depending on what its shape looks like. This kind of fireworks is small in size. Bokfai bakhibao is round in shape and looks like a nest of a kind of beetle that lays eggs in buffalo dung. One whose shape looks like a bottle gourd is called namtao or one that looks like a water bottle made from clay is called namton in the Lanna dialect.

The gunpowder is a mixture of potassium nitrate and fine powder from car cylinders, carbon powder from burning glutinous rice, powder from grinding the wheel of an airplane (mag wheel) and sulfur powder mixed with charcoal powder and that is pressed into a clay container and covered on top with dry clay before inserting the fuse into it. The firework must be lit in an open space like the ground terrace in front of a vihan or a house that is large enough for the sparks to spread out without causing anything in the vicinity to catch fire. Before lighting the firework people pray to the Lord Buddha to ask for blessing and prosperity.

Formula for gun powder mixture
            Each temple has its own secret formula for making gunpowder for the fireworks. Some of the formulas have been passed down for many generations. The experts in gunpowder are mostly novices and monks since they have been assigned to make fireworks to be lit during the Yipeng Festival. This is the reason that most of the gunpowder formulas for fireworks are named after the temple that makes it, for example the formula from Wat Phanon Khong Muang and that of Wat San Kamphaeng. Moreover, the gunpowder formulas can be named after the village or the artisan (sla) who made it, for example, the one from Mueang Phan Doiwan, the one from Mueang Ka of Mae Rim, the one named Kham from Mueang Phrao and the one from San Sai Tonkok. New formulas are being experimented with and invented continually to create as much beauty and colorful sparks as possible. The following is a formula invented by Sla Khantho Inthonkleo (Interview, Nov. 5, 2008) of Ban San Sai Tankok, Tambon Faham, Mueang District, Chiang Mai.
Formula for 3 kg.
1. Potassium nitrate 3 kg.
2. Steel powder 5 kg.
3. Sulfur 6 gm.
4. Charcoal from glutinous rice 3-4 gm.
5. Powder from car mag wheel 1 gm.
Formula for bamboo fireworks of 40-50 cm.
1. Potassium nitrate 3 kg.
2. Steel powder 4 kg.
3. Sulfur 3 gm.
4. Charcoal from glutinous rice 6 gm.
            Container is made from a bamboo cylinder. A firework of 40 cm. in length needs a 1 in. axle and one of 6 hun (1 hun = 1/8 of an inch) for a firework of 50 cm. in length.
Formula of Mueang Phan in Chiang Rai for a 40-50 cm long firework
1. Potassium nitrate 8 gm.
2. Steel powder 10 gm.
3. Sulfur 3 gm.
4. Charcoal from glutinous rice 2 gm.
5. Powder from a car mag wheel 2 gm.
6. Corate 2 gm.
Formula for Bakfai Bakhibao
            This formula was invented by a 55 year old expert in fireworks making named Khantho Inthankleo who was thought to be an abbot named Phrakhru Thawanrattanawat (Tulung Kaeo) of Wat Sibunroeng, Tambon Chaisathan, Saraphi District, Chiang Mai and Mr. Loet Suwan of Ban Thaluk, Tambon San Phisuea, Mueang District, Chiang Mai. Sla Khantho has been involved in fire cracker making since he was around 9 years old. The formula used by his group is as follows:
1. Potassium Nitrate 12 kg.
2. Carbon deposits from a cooking pot 12 kg.
3. Charcoal powder from glutinous rice 2 kg.
4. Powder from a car mag wheel 1 gm.
5. Sulfur 2 kg.
            About 1 kg. of the mixture can make approximately 10 small firecrackers. The amount of charcoal powder from glutinous rice and the powder for the car mag wheel can be adjusted. The smaller firecrackers have more of these two ingredients to increase the pressure whereas the bigger size firecrackers need less pressure so the amount of powder from glutinous rice and that from a car mag wheel can be reduced.



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