Thursday, June 5, 2008

Loy Krathong Festival

Wan Loy Krathong or Loy Krathong day

As the full moon of the twelfth lunar month (usually in mid-November) lights up the night sky, throughout the Thai kingdom, hundreds of thousands of ornately-decorated krathong or traditional banana leaf floats are set adrift in rivers and waterways in a spell-binding ritual called Loi Krathong - the 'festival of lights". This is one of the Kingdom's oldest and best-preserved traditions.

The Loi Krathong tradition we know of today has evolved from the royal rituals of the early Rattanakosin period in which several types of lanterns were set afloat in the Chao Phraya River and its waterways. The practice was subsequently adopted and adapted by common folk.

Krathong floats are made from basic materials easily found around the village and reflect the simplicity of life beyond the palace walls. They typically take the shape of lotus in full bloom, swans, chedis (stupas), and Mount Meru from Buddhist mythology. However krathong floats in the shape of lotus blossoms are most popular.

The Origins of Loi Krathong
There are various fascinating accounts about the origins of Loi Krathong. It is not known as to when the tradition first began but authorities speculate that it is of Indian origin and based on the "Deepavalee" ritual which is also accompanied by floating lights in an act of worship of the Brahmin gods - Brahma, Siva and Vishnu, or an act of remission to the Indian Ganga or Ganges. According to another school of thought, the ritual is said to be based on ancient Buddhist tales and is undertaken to pay respect to the sacred footprint of the Lord Buddha on the bank of the mythical Nammadhammahantee river.

However, given the river-based culture that formed the foundation of the traditional Thai way of life, Loi Krathong evolved into a ritual in which offerings are made to Mae Khongkha – Mother of Waters, the Thai equivalent of the Hindu goddess of water, in an expression of gratitude for providing life-sustaining water throughout the year. It is also believed that the offering are made in an act of appeasement to beg her forgiveness for Man's carelessness in polluting the pristine water that nourishes all life. Over time the tradition spread throughout the country.

Some believe that by setting the krathong adrift, one symbolically casts away one's grief, misery and ill-fortunes to the extent that there are bizarre tales of the superstitious placing tufts of hair or clipped finger-nail into the krathong in the hope of ridding themselves of a spell of bad luck or misfortune. Coins are also placed in the krathong as offerings.

For the romantic at heart and young couples, Loi Krathong is the time to make wishes for happiness together and success in love.

At dusk, as the full moon begins to rise, the krathong is decorated with fresh flowers and 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 set adrift. The floats are carried downstream by the gentle current, candlelight flickering in the wind.

The lighting of fireworks is undertaken in the same spirit as when lighting candles in an act of worship so fireworks displays are very much an integral element of the secular and religious rituals performed.

Soon after, attention turns to celebration. The evening's festivities consist of impressive firework displays, folk entertainment, stage dramas, song and dance. Scenes as described in ancient Thai literary accounts are still very much in existence today.

Loi Krathong customs and traditions reflect local beliefs and cultural evolution. Interesting regional variations can be seen. In Tak province, the banana-leaf floats are replaced by coconut shells which are threaded together and launched simultaneously so they appear as long chains of hundreds of glittering lights on the Ping River, hence the origin of its name, Loi Krathong Sai.

In the Northern Thai provinces that were once part of the ancient Lanna Thai kingdom, the Yi-peng Northern Lantern Festival is still being celebrated. Tubular lanterns, resembling hot air balloons, are lit and released into the night sky as an offering the Lord Buddha. As hundreds of illuminated lanterns drift into infinity, this conjures the same sense of wistful closure as the krathong float downstream.


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