Trigger warnings for this article: none that I can think of. Work-safe.
Note: I found out about a dragon-related seasonal event that I’d never heard of before. I wrote this article last year, but the research took so long that I couldn’t post it in time for that October. I decided to wait until this October to post it. Another thing… despite all the tourism this event attracts, I couldn’t find any satisfactory photos or drawings of it anywhere! So I drew it based on the descriptions.
Every year around this time, on the last night of Buddhist Lent, hundreds of glowing fireballs float up from part of the Mekong River in Thailand. According to legend, these are the fiery breath of the Naga, the supernatural serpents who live underwater. In mythology, the Naga are shape-shifters who have much wealth and magic. Stories about the Naga influenced the development of stories about dragons in Chinese mythology. Other explanations for the fireballs are being sought, but so far, the event’s cause is still a mystery.
The fireballs happen yearly, and they have done so for over a century, which is confirmed by the writings of contemporary monks.1
Location: Along a 100-kilometer stretch of the Mekong River, near the ancient Wat Paa Luang temple and the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, in the Nong Khai province in the Issan region of Thailand.2 Sometimes, the fireballs appear simultaneously in ponds in a neighboring province, where they had various colors: red, yellow, and green.3 “[S]cientists found that 90 percent of the fireballs appear near the confluence of the Mekong River and estuaries of secondary streams, while ten percent of the fireballs appear at inland water ponds.”4
The fireballs are called bung fai paya nak (Naga fireballs) because the locals believe that the fireballs are breathed out by supernatural water-serpents called Nagas. Because the fireballs coincide with the end of Buddhist Lent, it’s thought that the Nagas are celebrating the return of Buddha from heaven.5
The fireballs happen like this: they are luminous orbs, usually red or pink in color. One by one, they float above the water, moving straight up into the air, and then disappear high up. The fireballs are silent, odorless, and leave no debris; they range in size from grapefruits to basketballs.6 They appear on the last night of Buddhist Lent in October, on the full moon of the 11th lunar month.7 The fireballs appear again in May.8 They begin to appear starting at 6 pm.9 There are usually hundreds of them. In 2002, “at least 1,000 balls of light were spotted despite clouds and rain.”10 In 2007, there were only 67 fireballs in total, the majority of which were in the Ratana Wapi sub-district.11 ( Read more... )