by: Scotte Coates
One of the neatest parts of living in a foreign country is learning about and partaking in local ceremonies and holidays.
My first big Thai holiday, back in 1999 was Loi Krathong, the Kingdomâ€™s second most important festival of the year after Songkran (Thai New Years, April) and Iâ€™ve eagerly anticipated it every year since.
Loi Krathong always takes place on the full moon day of the 12th lunar month (which occurs in the later part of October and the first three weeks of November). This year, the big day is Saturday, November 8, 2546 (2003).
Itâ€™s a time to pay homage to Mae Kong Ka, the goddess of water. She is thanked for providing a bountiful supply of water for drinking, bathing, farming, fishing, commuting on canals and sustaining basic life. It â€˜s also a time to ask for forgiveness for using and polluting her water.
This time of year coincides with the end of the monsoon season, which runs from July until late October, leaving water levels at their highest, especially in the central plains around Bangkok. This abundance of water creates the perfect situation for people to launch beautiful krathongs to thank Mae Kong Ka.
A krathong, central to celebrating this special day, is a round, floating object, usually around 10 inches in diameter and traditionally made of all organic items. Pieces of banana leaf are intricately folded, shaped and attached to a base made of banana tree trunk (it floats). Flowers, three incense sticks, a candle and other decorative items are then added, rendering a lotus flower-shaped float. Today the base is sometimes made of foam, something that has recently caused much environmental debate among Thais.
As Thai legend has it, the krathong has a history of more than 700 years, originating during the Sukhothai period. Nang Noppamas, the beautiful and very creative daughter of a local Brahmin priest wanted to honor the Dynastyâ€™s then leader, King Maha Thammaraja. She crafted the first krathong from the same organic elements used today. The King accepted her gift, lit the candle and set it afloat.
Four Nang Noppamas light their krathongs
Today on Loy Krathong Day there are Nang Noppamas parades across the country with communities, university faculties and the like selecting their most beautiful woman to be their very own Nang Noppamas.
Youâ€™ll also find vendors on almost every street selling krathongs they have made. These beautiful floating lotus flowers come in all shapes and sizes, generally ranging in price from 15Baht (B) ($0.40US) to 100B ($2.50US), making it an affordable outing for all.
After attaining your krathong, the idea is to find a body of water youâ€™re fond of and float (loi) it. This is best done in the evening with friends, family and/or best of all your terak (darling). By now youâ€™ve probably deduced that literally translated, Loi Krathong means float krathong.
To loi like a pro, first put a piece of your hair, fingernail and a coin (1B will suffice) into your krathong. Next, light the incense sticks, candle and set it out into the water. Immediately after, put your hands in the traditional Thai wai (entails putting your palms together, tucking your elbows slightly into your body and putting the tips of your fingers near your forehead with your thumbs along your face) and make a wish. As legend has it, if your candle is still burning when your krathong floats out of view, your wish will come true. Thais also believe that as their krathong floats away, so do all of their sins from the previous year.
A wonderful thing about Thais is that despite being very superstitious, especially with traditions, they generally try and look on the bright side of things. I have been with many a Thai whose candle blew out shortly after being launched. To this they have generally stated, â€œmai pen raiâ€ (never mind). Somehow they say it doesnâ€™t really matter and their wish will come true anyway (who can blame the wind and poorly crafted wicks I guess).
Despite Loi Krathong not even being a public holiday, itâ€™s incredibly important to Thais and draws the nation together. Thereâ€™s simply not a more beautiful sight than the reflection of a glowing full moon on the water as hundreds of candles on their floating Krathongs shine beside it.