“Loy Krathong” The Thai Festival of Lights and Lanterns
The connection between Thais and rivers has existed since the old days. The river is a source most of things for Thai including food, drinking water, and planting. In the past, mostly Thais tended to locate nearby the rivers resulting in a strong connection between them that could not torn apart. And this brought to a lot of interesting beliefs related to the rivers. On the full moon night in the twelfth month following the lunar system that any rivers are at high tide stage, there will be thousands of candles lights in floating baskets or Krathong in Thai which is decorated with flowers, incense, candle that light up all around the rivers. This is one of a very significant tradition related to the rivers in Thailand called “Loy Krathong fstival”.
About the Festival
The Loy Krathong Festival is existing not just only in Thailand but is also widespread in the Asia region in countries such as China, India, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. The festival in each country is different in details of activities according to ritual and beliefs in that country.
Even in Thailand, there are many beliefs that are connected to the rituals and reasons to make this tradition happen. The floating basket ceremony is the activity to these following purposes:
Purpose of Loy Krathong Festival
- To welcome the Lord Buddha to come back from showing clemency to his mother who dwells in the second heaven.
- To pay respect to the Lord Buddha’s footprint.
- To pay respect to Lord Graves or Sakaeo-Buddha Chulamni.
- To pay respect to Lord Upagubta, one of the famous Buddhist monks.
- To pay respect to any gods according to ones beliefs.
- To pay thanks to the goddess of water for her kindness to give the water for human beings to consume.
- To apologize for any rubbish that we dump into the rivers.
- To throw away any sorrow and misfortune with the floating basket as we can see they will cut or trim their hairs and nails and put into the floating basket.
Although there are many beliefs and reasons causing this tradition but we can see their similar purpose is to pay respect and be grateful to anything that they glorify such as Lord Buddha, God, Goddess of water, predecessor or even nature and will pay respect with an oblation, incense and candle.
Why does the floating basket have to be lotus shape?
We have some clues regarding to the old story from nowhere in time that is good enough to refer to is the book of the Lady Sri Chulaluk or Thao Sri Chulaluksa or Lady Noppamas. She is the lady of the court during the reign of King Phra Mahathammaracha I or Phya Lithai of the Sukhothai Dynasty.
Legend of the Lady Sri Chulaluck
According to the legend, it was a full moon night in twelfth month following the lunar system that King Phra Mahathammaracha I made a trip by the river and issued an order to all ladies of the court to make a flower basket with an offering to float in front of the throne hall nearby the river. So that the Lady Sri Chulaluck makes the basket as Red water lily or Nymphaea Lotus name Komut Lotus because this lotus bloomed during the night once a year so it is suitable to be an inspiration for making the floating basket as the offering to pay respect to the Lord Buddha’s footprint.
Therefore, the king Phra Mahathammaracha I delivers the royal decree for any kings of Siam to pay respect to the Lord Buddha’s footprint by offering the floating basket on the full moon night of the twelfth month of lunar calendar abiding. As a result, the design of the floating basket is similar to a water lily since then.
Loy Krathong in present days
Today, Loy Krathong Festival fairly maintains its original pattern of ceremony and once the full moon night of twelfth month in lunar calendar arrives. People will prepare the floating basket which is made from any materials from nature such as banana stalk and lotus and becomes a beautiful floating basket and then add incense, candle, flowers and other offering inside the basket.
Before releasing the basket to the river, they will pray and make a wish including apologies to the goddess of water. There are fairs at lots of temples or venues with a wide range of activities i.e. floating basket contest, Noppamas contest etc. and there is entertainment to celebrate all through the night. Moreover, there are fireworks, firecrackers, pinwheels which need to be very careful when to play.
Loy Krathong in each region of Thailand
1. Upper Northern:
It is popular to make the floating lantern or “Wow Hom” or “Wow Kwan” in local language, it made from thin fabric and a candle is illuminated under it to make it float up in the air like balloon. This tradition of northern is called “Yee Peng” is the merit on the full moon night of second month follow to Lanna (Old northern empire of Thai) calendar that is matched to the twelfth month in Thai calendar.
2. Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai, the “Yee Peng” festival is one of the remarkable festival that has uncountable floating lanterns up in the sky in the full moon night which any tourists should not miss.
Tak province, there are many small floating baskets released into the river and called “Krathong Sai” which mean lining floating basket.
Sukhothai province, the original of this festival, there is a parade of “Hanging Lamps” and lighting of fireworks and fire crackers.
They call Loy Krathong Festival as “Sib Song Peng” which mean the full moon night of the twelfth month and it is unique in their way to celebrate this festival.
6. Roi Et
Roi Et province, there is the festival called “Som-ma-na Num Kuen Pen Seng Pra Teep” which means to apologize to the goddess of water on the full moon night of the twelfth month. And the celebration includes a lamps contest, floating basket contest, and the demonstration of the 11 ancient cities’ parade in this festival as well.
7. Sakon Nakhon
Sakon Nakhon province, in the past the floating basket was made from leaf sheaf of banana tree and made similar to the wax castle and called this festival is “Loy Pra Theep Phra Rat Cha Tarn” or Congratulate Floating Lamp Festival.
8. Nakhon Phanom
Nakhon Phanom province, there are decoration and lighting to the boats and call “Lai Rue Fai” or Flowing Boat Festival” particular at Nakhon Phanom is the most beautiful and elegant in northeastern of Thailand.
There are many festive events all across this part of Thailand.
There is the celebration spot call “the Golden Mountain Fair” or Phu Khao Thong Fair” which is organized as a temple fair and is 7-10 days in duration that is started before Loy Krathong Festival and ended after.
11. Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya
There is the celebration of Loy Krathong like the rising time of the old capital of Ayothya at the Historical Park with the demonstration show of light and sound that is very fabulous to see.
Southern: at Had Yai district and Song Kla province, there are big events to celebrate this festival and also in any provinces in southern of Thailand.
Beliefs about Loy Krathong Festival
- The people, since the old times believe that this is the time to pay respect and apologies to the goddess of water for allowing us to use, consume the water and dump any rubbish into the river.
- This is the way to pay respect to the Lord Buddha whom imprint his footprint at the beach of Narmada river in India.
- The belief as to release any sorrow, grief and sickness to go by the river.
- In northern of Thailand, they believe that this festival is to pay respect to Lord Upagubta, a Buddhist monk that according to the legend he can conquer the god of evil.
What to do in Loy Krathong Festival
- Release the floating basket into the rivers or any venues
- Support any activities organized in this festive event i.e. Floating basket Contest, Lady Noppamas Contest, Traditional amusements such as Thai dancing, playing song in order to experience Thai culture.
- The exhibitions and floating basket ceremony are good ways to expand and maintain the good of Thai traditions.
- Participate to use the natural and biodegradable materials to make the basket the result is to not make any pollution into the water sources.