“..It’s the first full moon in November…”
“Everybody’s doing it–well, at least everybody in Thailand. All over the country, Thais will be floating their mini-boats in rivers, ponds, and irrigation ditches–almost anywhere there’s a wet spot. It’s all in honor of the mother of water, Mae Khongka, in atonement for a year of water pollution. Explains Sumeth “Joe” Iamkraiam of the Tourism Authority of Thailand: “Loi Krathong is a way of saying thank you to the river.”
The celebration of Loi Krathong started over seven hundred years ago, and Thais have been floating their banana boats ever since. Although the festival is celebrated all over Thailand, the best place to participate in the festivities is Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand, or in Sukothai, the ancient capital. In Chiang Mai, Loi Krathong includes the “Khom Loi” Festival, including beauty and float contests, and during which hot air balloons are filled with fireworks and released into the night sky to carry away problems and bad luck.
Krathong means “leaf cup.” Krathongs are lotus-shaped “boats” made of folded banana leaves. Locals make their own, but you can buy one from one of the vendors who capitalize on the festival (also, magicians set up stages and food vendors pull out the goods). Fill your krathong with a candle, flowers, incense, and a coin. Sometimes, locals add a snip of their hair or fingernails to the krathong (so that a part of their bodies goes out to the goddess). Locals wear beautiful costumes, so stop by a vendor and get one for yourself. Villagers wear the traditional dress of Thailand, sarongs and tunics, and some young men temporarily tattoo their bodies for the festival. Doorways and gates of temples and houses are decorated with banana trees, palms, and lit lanterns, completing a picture which evokes a magical aura.
At dark, when the full moon begins to rise, everyone travels to the Ping River to send the krathongs a-floating. When all of the boats are in the River, the lit candles reflecting off the water make it look much like tiny stars scattered in the night sky. Many people pray that the water will wash away their sins while the boats begin to disappear. Leisurely viewing of the spectacle, according to Caroline Subkaew, who has witnessed Loi Krathong, “gives you time to reflect on the vastness and power of mother nature.”
The Loy Krathong festival dates back to the time of the Sukhothai Kingdom, about 700 years ago. It marked the end of the rainy season and the main rice harvest. It is based on a Hindu tradition of thanking the water god for the waters. The farmers of Sukhothai used to hold a festival of floating candles. One year, a beautiful woman called Noppamas, who was the chief royal consort, made some special lanterns for the festival. She made them from banana leaves and shaped them like lotus flowers. The king was impressed with what he saw, so he announced that krathongs would be floated on the water every year from then on. Today, the memory of that woman who made the first krathong is remembered in a beauty contest called “The Noppamas Queen Contest”. For more information see The First Loy Krathong Festival.