Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Loy Krathong: Thailand's Festival of Light

Loy Krathong is held on the full moon of the 12th month of the Thai Lunar Calendar. In the Western calendar this usually falls in November. This year it, it's next week.

Loy - means to float, and krathong - is a leaf cup or bowl. The traditional float is made from a fibrous disk, a slice through the trunk of a banana tree on which is mounted an artfully constructed bowl made from elaborately folded banana leaves. The bowl is decorated with flowers, leaving room for the obligatory candles and three sticks of incense. A few small coins as offerings and a lock of hair, or nail clipping are placed inside the bowl to distinguish the owner before the krathong is launched on a river, canal, or the sea, accompanied by a prayer.

It's believed the float will symbolically carry away your grief, misery or misfortunes, and enable a better start to the following year.

a handy photo guide to constructing your own krathong. Alternatively, the dexterously challenged can buy one for around $1.50

At dusk, fresh flowers, the candles and incense sticks are placed in the krathong. The float is then taken to a waterway where the candle and incense sticks are lit and the krathong gently set adrift by the light of the full-moon. Fireworks are then set-off in an act of pyrotechnic worship soon after which, attention turns to celebration. The evening’s festivities consist of folk entertainment, stage dramas and dance. And a beauty contest, the Noppamas Queen Contest. Noppamas is the legendary chief royal consort of King Lithai during the Sukhothai period. She is said to have made and floated the first krathong to enchant her royal lover.

Loy Krathong is a special night for lovers. Couples who make a wish together on this day, it's said, will enjoy long-lasting love, especially if their krathongs remain together on the water. It worked for me.

The festival is too similar to the Hindu festival of light - Diwali - to be unrelated, and is probably its origin. Diwali is celebrated on the new moon, around the fifteenth day of the month Kartika, usually, just a couple of weeks before the Thai event. At Diwali, people light deyas, small clay pots filled with coconut oil and a wick to signify victory of good over the evil within an individual, and thanksgiving to the deity of the Ganges for giving life throughout the year.

While Loy Krathong is not strictly a religious event in Thailand, the festival evolved to become something of a multiple homage giving ritual in that the contents of the krathong intended to rid oneself of misery are also offered to Mae Khongkha – the Goddess of Waters - in an expression of gratitude for providing life-sustaining water throughout the year. It's believed the offerings are made in an act of appeasement to beg her forgiveness for man’s carelessness in polluting the pristine water that nourishes all life. Whatever the significance, Loy Krathong is a beautiful occasion and should not be missed if you're in Thailand next week.

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