There is a strange phenomena that occurs every year in the Mekong River along the boundary between Thailand and Laos. This unexplained event is known in Thai as บั้งไฟพญานาค bang-fai phaya-nak, or the “Naga Fireballs”. The Naga is a mythical serpent of Indian and Southeast Asian legends. They are similar to dragons and occupy a position somewhere between gods and animals in the grand scheme of the universe.
The Naga Fireballs always occur on the night of the full moon in October or November which marks the end of the Buddhist rainy season retreat. At night, as thousands crowd to the riverbank near the city of Nong Khai, they are given a spectacle by small orbs of red light that rise up from the surface of the river. The lights emerge silently and rise to around 50 meters in the air before disappearing. The lights are named after the Naga in the belief that it is the mythical serpent inhabiting the waters who shoots the glowing orbs of light into the air. In this video, you can see several of the Naga Fireballs at the top of the screen accompanied by cheers from the crowd. There is also a floating lantern and some bottle rockets lit by members of the crowd in the video, but pay attention for the silent fireballs instead. Many theories have been put forward as to the origin of the lights, but they still remain unexplained to this day.
The Nagas are well known to both Hindus and Buddhists. In Hindu legend, a giant Naga named Ananta (“endless”) serves as a coiled mattress for the god Vishnu as he sleeps and dreams the universe into creation. Another story tells of the god Krishna defeating a poisonous Naga and dancing upon its head in victory.
In the Buddhist stories, the Naga serpent Muchalinda spreads out his multiple heads as a canopy to shelter the Buddha from a storm as he sat in deep meditation. The role of protector is continued at almost every temple in Thailand, where Nagas grace the roofs of the assembly halls and guard the entrance to the temple precincts.