The Festival of Loy Kratong

November 6, 2000

On November 11th under the full moon thousands of people will head to the rivers, canals, ponds, and even swimming pools of Thailand to celebrate Loy Kratong. They will bring ornate handmade ‘Kratong’ along and send them adrift. This visually spectacular event marks the end of the rainy season and the beginning of the main rice harvest and happens every year on the full moon of the twelfth lunar month.

‘Kratong’ are floating bowl shaped vessels usually made out of banana leaves and ‘Loy’ means to float. These Kratong typically contain a candle, three incense sticks and a small coin set among flowers. People light the candles and incense, make a wish, and send their Kratong gently out into the water.

It is an amazing visual spectacle usually complete with firecrackers and balloon like lanterns being released into the sky. Individuals take a moment to say a small or long prayer and make a wish before setting their Kratong adrift. Everyone hopes that their candles keep061100k1.jpg burning into the night, symbolizing longevity and that their wish will come true. Lovers hope that their Kratong float together. People sit and enjoy the spectacular sight of hundreds of Kratong on the water. Laughter and happiness is in the air.

Although there are towns famous for their Loy Kratong festivities, whatever body of water you head off to is guaranteed to provide a stunning time. The small pond in my neighbourhood provided me with a wonderful evening.

Whether you chose to buy your Kratong or make it yourself, the craftsmanship and care put into making these vessels is outstanding. I am perpetually stunned by the artistic skills Thais possess and they really give it all for Loy Kratong. Kratong come in all sizes, shapes, and magnitudes of brilliance. From the smallest to the biggest, each is wonderfully ornate.

Back in the old days these vessels were only made of natural materials. The modern age has introduced Styrofoam as a Kratong material.061100k2.jpg Styrofoam obviously floats well but is a non-biodegradable and can leave a real mess behind after the celebration is finished.

In some towns, huge parades of giant Kratong carried on trucks make their way to the rivers. Women ride on these Kratong and both the Kratong and the women participate in beauty contests.

There are different versions regarding the origins of Loy Kratong. Some say it is of Brahmin origin and is a ceremony of giving thanks to the water goddesses for providing the water needed for a good harvest. Others say the festival originates from a woman who lived in Sukothai over 700 years ago.

Her name was Naang Noparmart and she possessed amazing artistic skills. She enjoyed making decorative Kratong for fun and floating them on the water in honour of the Lord Buddha. Legend has it that there already was a tradition of floating lanterns in the waters at this time. His Royal Majesty the King of Thailand came to judge the lanterns and saw Naang061100k3.jpg Noparmart’s Kratong and gave her first prize. Naang Noparmart had created the prototype of today’s Kratong without knowing it. Sukothai now also hosts an amazing light and sound show for the Loy Kratong celebration.

A commonly held belief is that as these vessels float away they take the owner’s misfortunes and sins from the last year along with it. Loy Kratong even has its own song, which translates to: In November under the full moon shine/ Loy Kratong, Loy Kratong/ The water is high in the golden river/ Loy Kratong, Loy Kratong/ Loy Kratong is here and everyone is full of cheer/ We are all together at the khlong (canal)/ Each with his Kratong/ As we push away we pray for a better day.

All indications show that the ceremony of Loy Kratong began as a leisure time activity and was adapted into a Buddhist holiday at a later date. You can choose where Loy Kratong came from. At the end it is a day for rejoicing. It actually reminds me of something we all do back in my hometown.

Back in Vermont, U.S.A. we have a duck race on our local river. The local fire department raises money by selling plastic yellow rubber ducks (like the ones you put in your bathtub) with numbers written on the bottom. Everyone heads to the river and cheers for their duck to win the race. Believe it or not, the last time I did this my duck came in last but I still had an absolute blast.

There is a definite mystery and hope to watching your Kratong or your plastic duck float away. It is a time to hope for the best and to enjoy a special day with family and friends.

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