PHRAYATAEN, the God of Rain, moves in mysterious ways. Never more so than when having to deal with the lethal combination of Thailand's government and the local bureaucracies in the northeast of the country. While they were busy messing things up, Phrayataen did his best to help out a small group of scribes who had latched on to a rather more learned group of Siam Society members on something of a pilgrimage to see how the heavens would be prised open. Nowhere else in Thailand is rain more important than in the parched northeast, which desperately needs a good rainy season to keep the wheels of agriculture turning. To make sure this happens, extraordinary efforts are made to attract Phrayataen's attention. In May he is courted with a spectacular festival, Bun Bong Fai, the rocket festival, where elaborately decorated projectiles are sent heavenwards in the hope that rain will respond after contact has been made. The biggest and most spectacular rockets are launched from Yasothon, an otherwise nondescript market town. So it was to Yasothon that the Siam Society members made their way, with a small group of overseas journalists in tow. The legend goes that a suitor, losing to a rival, inflicted the curse of drought on the people of the region, after disguising himself as a squirrel. It is said that the curse cannot be broken unless rockets are fired into the sky as a form of atonement. The rain-making festival has become far more elaborate now with corporate sponsorship for the bigger rockets, in reality giant fireworks packing 150 kilos of propellent. The Tourism Authority has become involved in organising the event and so has the local government. But our trip looked like being a waste of time. We were told the festival had been postponed for a week. Why? The suspicion was that the local bureaucracy had fallen out with the people in Bangkok and were keen to assert their independence. We were about to call it a day when a man at the temple suggested going to the village of Khumngern, some 21 kilometres away. The villagers there were out in force when we arrived, but so was the baking sun and the dust, making the prospects of rain look very remote. However, we were welcomed with open arms. Young men were violently pummelling their leather-bound drums to the accompaniment of a wailing electronic harmonica, while a group of women started a slightly unco-ordinated but quite beautiful dance. Two floats stood at the head of the dancer's procession. One carried pretty young girls straddling a giant white squirrel, (we're back to the legend here), while the other had a large model horse carrying an elaborately made up young couple, representingthe betrothed lovers of the legend. The most outstanding feature of the horse was a rather pronounced male organ, manipulated by a piece of string to move up and down in time with the procession. Fertility and phallic symbols are an integral part of this festival. The so-called sophisticates from Bangkok are rather embarrassed by it all. In Khumngern it is a piece of good old-fashioned fun. Phimvipa Chanpitak, a local schoolteacher, did not share my scepticism about the rain-making efforts here. After all, the villagers did not even have live rockets. ''It's incredible'', she said, ''every year we have rain after the festival''. As she was speaking the heat enveloped us like a furnace and the air was remarkably still. However the ceremonies were hotting up. Once again the drums were beaten. The sky darkened, the wind stirred impressively and the heavens opened. Talk about timing, Hollywood could scarcely have produced anything more impressive and right on cue. Phrayataen had listened, the village was happy and the travellers from abroad were, frankly, amazed and impressed. The following week the big boys turned out with their rockets at Yasothon. It remained dry.