Candle Festival: Thailand’s Illuminating Festival of Light
The extravagant Candle Festival ushers the beginning of the green (or wet) season in Thailand and is typically held annually in July. Despite being celebrated throughout Thailand, no other place celebrates the festival quite like Ubon Ratchathani, a city located in the Isaan region, around 500km northeast of the capital city of Bangkok.
The Festival has its origin etched in tradition and religion. It is held during Asahna and Khao Phansa days – two watershed Buddhist events that mark Buddha’s first sermon and the start of the Buddhist Lenten period respectively. The celebration entails colourful parades of majestic and lavish candlewax sculptures intertwined in Thai traditional music and dance.
Long before the invention of electricity, Thai Buddhists had been collecting and donating candles to their local temples to ensure that they stayed illuminated for monks who needed light to study through the three-month Lenten period. This donation of candles, which hitherto were purely for merit-making, took a symbolic turn following the invention of electricity, and the candles became elaborate and grander with time.
Despite being a religious and merit-making event, participants of the celebration have been known to integrate a bit of sanook to spice things up. Sanook is a Thai word that means to derive pleasure and joy from any activity you engage in – this is a code that the Thai people live by.
However, this does not mean that the Candle Festival instantly becomes a wild or alcohol-fuelled frenzy. Like with every other religious celebration in Thailand, the sale of alcohol is also restricted during this event. Ironically, this does not dampen the atmosphere of the festival, as there are a plethora of activities, including food, music, energetic parades, boxing contests, and candle-wax sculpture contests to add excitement and sanook to the festivities.
In anticipation and preparation for the festivities, talented artisans make remarkable and colourful wax sculptures of prominent Buddhist figures. Similarly, The Candle Float parade features a large procession of Thai boys and girls in traditional attires dancing to Thai music in an energetic and flashy parade.
The festival also hosts an international sculpting contest on the Asahna Bucha day in the town centre. Here, the candle wax sculptures can tower as high as 20 meters and are elaborately decorated with traditional Thai patterns. The statues are paraded throughout the evening, and several other small candlelit processions are also conducted. The Candle Festival marks the last festive celebration in Thailand before the inception of the Buddhist Lent.
If you are captivated by the idea of a flashy festival marked with an elaborate display of Thai music, food, dance, and massive candle wax sculptures, then the Candle Festival in Thailand will definitely leave you in awe.