Maya, the mother of Buddha died a week after Buddha was born. She was reborn in the Trayastrimsa Heaven as a god named Santusita. To honour his mother, Buddha ascended to the Trayastrimsa Heaven and preached from the Abhidhamma texts to Santusita for three months.
Boun Ok Phansa marks Buddha’s return to earth and signifies the end of Buddhist Lent.
At dawn on the full moon day, donations and offerings are made at temples around the country. In the evening, beautiful candlelight processions are held around the temples. It is the celebration of lai heua fai or Loi ka thong, when everyone sends small lighted ‘boats’ made of banana stems or banana leaves decorated with candles and flowers down the rivers.
This tradition is observed to pay respect to the river spirits, especially the Mekong River which means Mother of All Things. People also believe that this is a way to send away all negativity such as sickness, bad luck, shortcoming, and failure.
In addition, the evening of the Awk Phansa day is the day the celebrated Naga fireballs are supposed to appear. The Naga is a mythical water dragon believed to live in the Mekong and on the night of the end of Buddhist Lent he is supposed to shoot up pink-red fireballs to signify the occasion.