Floating with the Spirits of Thailand

The Loy Krathong Festival – November 10th 2011

Float away your bad luck and ‘non-meritous’ deeds from the past year on a beautiful boat of banana leaves and good fortune: It’s Loy Krathong time!

As night falls and the full moon rises, people begin making their way to the water.Loy Krathong is by far one of the most popular festivals celebrated in Thailand. Occurring annually on the full moon the festival takes place during November of the Gregorian calendar; a time when the heavy rains of the wet season (should!) have ceased throughout most of the Kingdom, but the waterways of the land are still swollen with past spells of rain. This year we would like to exclude the City of Angels – Bangkok – which during this year’s rains and some other unforeseen issues with waterways has become more recognised as the engorged City of Mermaids.

Krathong with flowers, candle and incense sticks.

The Krathong holds flowers, a candle, 3 incense sticks and some coins.

‘Loy’ is the Thai word for ‘float’ and ‘Krathong’ refers to a small lotus shaped boat made from the stem and leaves of a banana plant; so the name of the festival means literally, to float your banana boat! Each Krathong is usually bedecked in fragrant flowers and also holds a candle, 3 incense sticks and some coins as an offering to the Goddess of Water.

Although the festival has been woven into the Buddhist culture and beliefs of Thailand, it actually pre-dates Thai Buddhism, being of Brahmin origin. It is a time when people offer thanks for the good fortune they have received over the past year, and apologise for any wrongs they have committed, offering their wishes, prayers and Krathongs to the River Goddess, Khongkha, or Ganga.

The Goddess Ganga has been worshipped for millennia by Indian Hindus, seeing her as the personification of the mighty Ganges River…… and was easily adopted by the pre-Buddhist spiritual beliefs of a very ancient Thai culture.

The Goddess Ganga has become known to many as the Goddess of all rivers, as well as fresh water ponds, lakes and canals. In Thailand, she is given her Thai name, Mae Pra Khongkha.

Family offering their Krathong to the River Goddess, KhongkhaIt is believed that as you float your Krathong on the river, it will carry away all the bad luck and sins which you have acquired, and the wishes that you make as you set it in the water will begin with the new day. It is also believed that if a young boy and girl launch a Krathong together, their wishes will combine and they will become lovers, either in this life or the next. Many couples will visit the rivers together to launch their Krathong, believing their relationship will become stronger and happier as the year progresses.

Loy Krathong is a time to be joyful; a time to celebrate as the ill-luck and suffering floats away with the Krathong, leaving you happy and free to start afresh. People all across Thailand get together with their friends and family on the morning to begin making their Krathongs. Traditionally, the stem of a banana plant is cut into sections, which form the base of the Krathong. Banana leaves are then cut and folded into different shapes before being pinned to the base in arrangements that reflect the shape, beauty and intricate simplicity of a lotus flower. The final steps are to add the flowers, candle, incense and coins, and your Krathong is ready for the launch.

Of course, these days, many people opt for the easier option of buying their Krathong ready made, due to the fact that making a beautiful Krathong which is truly fit for an offering to a Goddess takes the skilled hands and proficiency of one with plenty of experience. Sadly, many Krathongs are now made from StyrofoamSadly however, in the bid for ready-made beauty and rapid production, many Krathongs are now made from Styrofoam – we needn’t point out the perverse contradiction of asking for forgiveness and love from the Goddess of the River while you plug her full of pollution. However, a shinning light of sense seems to glow for some and you can now find Krathongs made from bread.

As night falls and the full moon rises, people begin making their way to the water, Krathongs in their hands and happy smiles on their faces. As they jostle next to each other along the banks of rivers and lakes across the country and launch their Krathongs onto the water with a wish, the light from their candle floats out to meet the sparkling procession of hundreds of other Krathongs as they bob gently into the distance, leaving a magical trail of glimmering lights and sweet scented incense smoke in their wake.

Sparkling procession of hundreds of Krathongs

The ‘Noppamas Queen Contest’ is also an important part of the Loy Krathong Festival, where all the young ladies of the community are invited to take part in a beauty contest. Banana leaves are then cut and folded into different shapes.Noppamas was a great beauty from the Sukhothai period of Thai history, and was the chief royal consort of the Sukhothai King, Lithai; she is said by some to have decorated the first Krathong.

Although the festival is celebrated all over Thailand, by Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and all, the festival has evolved differently in certain places, either to celebrate a particularly unique and distinctive waterway, or to reflect the culture of the local community. All we ask, on behalf of Mae Pra Khongkha, Neptune, Poseidon and all the fish, turtles, Gods and Goddesses of the Thai coasts and rivers, choose a banana or bread Krathong to carry your sins away.

It’s Loy Krathong time.

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