Loi Krathong is the largest annual festival held throughout Thailand and one in which almost every Thai participates.
Traditionally Loi Krathong is held on the night of the full moon in the 12th month of the lunar calendar, however with the full moon this year falling on a Wednesday, many Loi Krathong festivals will commence on November 8th to take advantage of the weekend.
The current format of the Loi Krathong festival is believed to have originated in the ancient Thai capital of Sukothai, but now most cities throughout Thailand celebrate Loi Kathong, with those in Chiang Mai and Ayutthaya being particularly well known and spectacular.
The Thai word “Loi” means “to float”, while “Krathong” is a raft about a handspan in diameter traditionally made from a section of banana tree trunk ‚Äì although today specially made bread ‚Äúflowers‚Äù or even Styrofoam may be used.
As part of the Loi Krathong celebrations beauty contests, called “Noppamas Queen Contests”, are also generally staged, with the name being attributed to a consort of the 14th century Sukothai king Loethai.
Ordinary Thai people decorate their krathongs with elaborately-folded banana leaves, flowers, candles, and incense sticks. Some people also include small clippings of their hair or finger nails.
Government departments, private corporations and other organisations build much larger and more elaborate rafts as part of Loi Kathong¬† contests, which are usually accompanied by spectacular fireworks displays, musical performances and other festive activities.
Some Thais believe the Loi Krathong festival is meant to worship Buddha‚Äôs footprint on the banks of the Narmada River, while others say that it is to pay respect to Phra Uppakhut, one of Buddha‚Äôs great disciples.
In addition to showing great respect to Buddha, the act of floating krathongs on rivers, canals or any other body of water symbolises letting go of grudges, problems, and anger so that one can start life afresh.
Many Thais also believe that floating a krathong at this time honours the Goddess of Water, ‚ÄúPhra Mae Khongkha‚Äù and will bring them good luck and fortune in the year ahead.
Others believe it expresses apologies to ‚ÄúKhongkha‚Äù or ‚ÄúGanga‚Äù, the River Goddess.
Any visitor to Thailand during the month of November cannot help but be caught up in this nation-wide celebration.
Chiang Mai Loi Krathong Festival and Yi Peng Festival
One of the largest and most colourful Loi Krathong ceremonies is held in the Northern Thailand city of Chiang Mai, where it coincides with the traditional Lanna Yi Peng Festival.
The Loi Krathong festival this year will be held between November 11 and 13 and feature bamboo raft and boat races on the Mae Ping River, a Yi Peng lantern procession, a beauty contest, a parade of giant krathongs, and nightly fireworks displays and cultural performances.
An added feature of the Chiang Mai Mai Loi Krathong Festival is the Chiang Mai Yi Peng Festival (Festival of Lights), a unique traditional practice of Chiang Mai locals, Lanna people, held at the same time.
Commonly called Sky Lanterns, the Yi Peng Festival involves the launching skywards of thousands of tubular lantern hot air balloons called ‚ÄúKhome Loi‚Äù as an offering to Buddha and to cast away grief, misery and ill-fortunes.
The lanterns are constructed using traditional bamboo formed into hoops and then coated with either tracing paper or Saa Paper made from the branches and leaves of the mulberry tree.
A small candle placed in the base provides the hot air to fill the paper envelope and float the lantern gently skywards.
In addition to the renowned Chiang Mai celebrations, notable Loi Krathong Festivals will also be held at:
Sukhothai Loi Krathong Festival, between November 7th to 12th 2008 at the Sukhothai Historical Park.
Highlights include worshipping ceremonies to ‚ÄúPhra Mae Ya‚Äù and King Ramkhamhaeng the Great, cultural arts and traditional Thai musical performances, a beauty contest, the lighting of lanterns, ‚ÄúKhao Khwan Wan Len Fai‚Äù ceremony, as well as a light and sound presentation at Wat Mahatat.
Bangkok Loi Krathong Festival, between November 8th and 12th 2008 at Santi Chai Prakarn, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok.
Highlights include a river procession of giant Krathongs, and the illumination of buildings and historical sites on both sides of the Chao Phraya River.
Tak Loi Krathong Festival, between November 8th and 12th 2008
Highlights include an invitation parade of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej Royal lamps, the Royal Krathong, a beauty pageant and a light and sound spectacular on the Mae Ping River.
Bang Sai Loi Krathong Festival ‚Äì incorporating the Tam Prathip Festival ‚Äì between November 11 and 13th, 2008 at the Bang Sai Royal Folk Arts and Crafts Centre, Phra Nakhon, Si Ayutthaya.
Highlights include a traditional procession of beauty queens from all four regions and a floating market demonstration.
Additional reading: Chiang Mai Loi Krathong and Yi Peng Festival pictorial special
See the Newsblog video gallery for Video of the opening of the 2008 Chiang Mai Yi Peng Festival
¬© John Le Fevre, 2008
Thailand ‚Ä¢ Tourism/travel ‚Ä¢ Thailand tourism ‚Ä¢ Thailand travel ‚Ä¢ Loi Krathong Festival ‚Ä¢ Yi Peng Festival ‚Ä¢ Festival of Lights ‚Ä¢ Thailand Festivals ‚Ä¢ Buddhism festivals ‚Ä¢ sky lanterns ‚Ä¢ Chiang Mai
He is currently deputy editor and Thailand / GMS region editor for The Establishment Post
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