November 2, 2014
The Festival of both Air and Water
By Asia BackPackers November 2014
When: Thursday, 06 November 2014
Where: Through-out the Kingdom of Thailand
Loy Krathong (Loi Krathong), is a colourful, joyful festival and is held every year on the full moon of the twelfth month in the Thai lunar calendar. The Festival is held all over the country, as well as parts of Myanmar (Shan State) where it is known as Tazaungdaing and in Laos. In 2014, the full moon falls on Thursday, 06 November 2014, but in many places in the north of the Kingdom the celebrations will be combined with the Yi Peng Festival which runs from Wednesday, November 05 to Friday, November 07, 2014.
The festival at times is mistakenly thought to be the same as the ‘Yi Peng – Festival of Light’, and the Mae Jo Sky Lantern Event this is in part due to the use of the same Lanna- style sky lanterns (Khom loi (Thai: โคมลอย), literally: “floating lanterns” which are released during the festivities but that is the only similarity as Loy Kratong is more about water than the sky.
According to the Royal Institute Dictionary 1999, loi (ลอย) means ‘to float’, while Krathong (กระทง) has various meanings, one of which is “a basket to be floated on water in the Loi Krathong festival”. Several translations of Krathong are found, such as floating crown, floating boat, floating decoration.
The traditional Krathong is made from a slice of the trunk of a banana tree or a spider lily plant. Modern Krathong are sometimes made of bread as they are more environmentally friendly, in the 90s many were made of Styrofoam, thank fully you very rarely see these today. The Krathong is decorated with elaborately-folded banana leaves and has upon it incense sticks, flowers and a candle. A small coin is sometimes added as an offering to the river spirits. (It is these coins the local children will eagerly look to find the morning after the festival)
Loi Krathong is often claimed to have begun in Sukhothai (earlier kingdom of Thailand) by a court maiden named Nopphamat. However, it is now known that the Nopphamat tale comes from a poem written in the early Bangkok period. According to H.M. King Rama IV, writing in 1863, it was a Brahmanical festival that was later adapted by Thai Buddhists to honour Buddha. It is commonly believed the festival may originate from an ancient ritual paying respect to the water spirits.
The candle on the Krathong venerates the Buddha with light, while its ability to float symbolizes letting go of all one’s hatred, anger and Kleshas. People sometime cut their fingernails or hair and place the clippings on the Krathong as a symbol of letting go of negative thoughts. However, many Thais use the Krathong to thank the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha (Thai: พระแม่คงคา). (Mother of Waters) and the water spirits.
On the night of the full moon, Thais launch their lighted Krathong on a river, canal, pond, lake or out to sea, making a wish as they do so. The festival is also the opportunity for the ladies to wear traditional Thai clothing, Thai clothing for women has changed little in thousands of years and consists of a long tube skirt made from a single piece of woven silk (known as a pha sin), this covers the wearer from ankle to either the waist or just below the breasts.
As recently as 1940 Thai women could be seen to wear only the ‘pha sin’ and be topless, this changed with the advent of western ideals and the 1941 State Decrees introducing Twelve Cultural Mandates from thereafter a shawl or piece of fabric was wrapped around the upper torso, today a blouse is sometimes worn in place of the wrap, and a sash can be added. The ladies will also arrange their hair in a formal manner, tied up onto their heads and held in situ with, a simple Tiera or larger headdress. (mokgud) To finish the formal costume intricate gold arm bands, waist bands and bracelets can also worn along with a smattering of flowers. More on Traditional Thai clothing.
This is by no means the end of the celebrations regarding what is Thailand’s most serine and beautiful of festivals, in the sea side cities of Pattaya and Phuket the night sky above the sea becomes alight with thousands upon thousands of sky lanterns, (Khom loy lanterns) floating lazily to the heavens. The sky lanterns are a relatively new and thoroughly welcome addition to the Loy Krathong celebrations and are some-what borrowed from the YI Peng Festival.
The primary reason to light a lantern is to offer respects to Buddha and secondly it is believed that the lanterns just like the Krathong will carry away troubles and bad luck, especially if it disappears from view before the fire flickers out.
The Khom Loy’s are usually made of Sa paper or tissue paper with a bamboo/wire support which holds the flame. A paraffin soaked cloth or a small fuel-soaked disk is used for the flame which then creates sufficient hot air to inflate the lantern and provide the uplift for the ‘Khom Loy’ to be carried into the nights sky.
Both the Krathong and the Khom Loy’s can be purchased from vendors who are either walking the beaches or are on the sidewalk. The job of getting the 1 metre high lanterns into the air is a two person job and takes a bit of patience, while one person holds the lantern open and pointing to the sky the other lights the paraffin and then both hold it for a few minutes until the air inside has heated enough for the lantern to take flight unaided.
The back drop of the lights from thousands of Krathong floating on the pitch black sea and the flames from as many Khom loi lanterns against the full moon, makes for a stunning scene. For me this is always a time to think of those that are no longer with us and a special time to share with family and friends.