Loy Krathong – of Light and WaterKirsty Turner
“November full moon shines, Loy Krathong, Loy Krathong, And the water’s high in the river and local klong, Loy Loy Krathong, Loy Loy Krathong, Loy Krathong is here and everybody’s full of cheer, We’re together at the klong, Each one with his krathong, As we push away we pray, We can see a better day.”
This is an English translation of the song sung by Thai students to celebrate Loy Krathong.
Quite the opposite of Songkran, Loy Krathong is by far my favourite Thai festival. In Thai, Loy means “to float”, whilst krathong is the name of the small lotus-shaped rafts, which are specially constructed for the occasion. Loy Krathong is held on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the lunar calendar. This usually falls in November and is celebrated this year (2007) on November 24th. Loy Krathong is long anticipated all over Thailand and especially in Bangkok, where people gather in their thousands on the banks of the Chao Phraya River and take boat trips along the intricate canal network.
Last year, I took a small ferry boat across the Chao Phraya River after dark. The sun had only just set, yet there, near the Phra Pinklao Bridge, several hundreds of people had already gathered.
I walked around the small park area, where groups of people had gathered to celebrate together. Folding metal tables and chairs had been set up everywhere, the tabletops already covered with bottles of Sangsom whiskey, glasses and buckets of ice. All around, stalls were set up selling krathongs in every size and colour, fireworks, toys and even baby turtles as many people believe that it is good luck to release turtles into the river during festivals.
At around 8 pm the boat parade began. I found a spot on the river bank and watched in awe as about two dozen elaborately decorated barges glided down the river. Each barge was strewn with coloured lights and decorated in a certain theme. Of particular note was a barge bearing an enormous saxophone, a tribute to His Majesty the King’s musical talent.
There was a spectacular fireworks display at the end of the parade. Several children joined in by firing tubes containing small rockets into the air with reckless abandon.
Then it was time for me to launch my krathong. I patiently waited my turn at the water’s edge, then lit the candle and incense sticks in the center and lightly placed my krathong on the water, making a wish as I did so. Many people believe that their wish will come true if their candle continues burning until the krathong is out of sight.
I watched in wonder as my krathong drifted into the river and weaved amongst the hundreds of others already floating there. The flickering lights of the candles on the water created a magical atmosphere.
The Loy Krathong festival dates back about 700 years. Coinciding with the end of the rainy season and the rice harvest, it is a way of apologizing for polluting the water. Thai people float a krathong on the water to thank the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha. The act of floating away the candle raft sybolises letting go of anger and grudges so that a person can start life afresh.
Another symbol of Loy Krathong are the beautiful kom loy lanterns. As I wove my way across the park once more, I came across a group of students holding aloft one of these large paper lanterns and waiting for it to fill with air. When inflated, a candle was placed inside and the lantern was released, rising high into the air to become another flickering point of light.
Another interesting event during Loy Krathong are the beauty contests, known as “Noppamas Queen Contests” after the consort of the former king of Sukhothai, King Loethai. Noppamas is credited with starting the tradition of krathongs when her beautiful tribute caught the attention of the king as it drifted down the river. Loy Krathong is a great opportunity to experience a Thai festival. Whether you choose to do it simply as and onlooker or get fully involved, Thai people are extremely found of this festival and pleased to share the experience.
About the author:
Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!