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Borsarng Umbrella Festival

making umbrellas The village of Borsarng has earned renown for the art of umbrella making for more than 200 years. Nobody knows why umbrellas are found in this particular village or from where the craft originated. It is widely speculated that the skill originated in China, but who brought it to Chiangmai and for what purpose is a mystery. In legend, it is said that a Buddhist monk on pilgrimage to Sipsong Panna, which now forms a part of Yunnan Province in China, learned about the art which he brought back with him on his return to the green fields and hills of Lanna.

The umbrella, which we think of as a device for keeping off the rain, actually originated as a kind of mobile shade from the heat of the sun, hence its name which comes from the Latin word "Umbra" or Shade. Interestingly the word for and umbrella in Thai "Rom" which also means shade. Borsarng village is famous for making the world's largest umbrella, specially made for the SEA GAMES held in Chiangmai in 1996. This was recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records.

The gaily painted parasol, a French word meaning "against the sun", that are for sale to visitors are built over a bamboo frame, and the cover is made of organza, cotton or "Saa" paper. This last material is a northern speciality and is made from the inner bark of the mulberry tree. The bark is peeled off and separated, then the white inner bark is beaten flat and boiled in a vat of water with several kinds of wood ash. Once the liquid has cooled, a mesh screen on a wood frame is dragged through it to catch the fine bark fibres in the liquid. This can be repeated many times depending or the thickness of "Saa" paper needed. The paper is then dried in sheets for many decorative or handicraft uses.

The umbrella frame is made of seven separate parts. These are the upper head, the upper head sleeve, the lower head, the rib struts, the stem and the spring latch. These are still made in the same way as in days-gone-by despite several modern innovations such as impregnating the bamboo with modern insecticides.

The annual Borsarng Umbrella Festival is one of the most popular in Chiangmai. Only 9 km. from the Super highway on the Sankampaeng road, it is easily accessible from the city. In 1998 the festival is being held from the 16th to 18th of January. This year there will be a parade of ancient musical instruments, competition of grand drums beatings, folk dancing, beauty contests, demonstrations of umbrella and fan making, and so forth. All the participant will be dressed in the traditional Lanna style and dress. This is a fascinating and interesting festival, and well worth a visit, so put it in your itinerary.

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