Loy Krathong: A Festival of Water and Light

Thailand
19 November 2021

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Loy Krathong: A Festival of Water and Light

Loy Krathong, or the Festival of Lights, is one of the most popular festivals in Thailand. Originally a ritual to honor and seek forgiveness from the Goddess of Water, the festival is celebrated across the kingdom, illuminating the entire rivers with candlelit krathong.

The event is held annually on the night of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar, this year falling on November 19th, coinciding with Chiang Mai’s Yi Peng Festival.

Phra Mae Khongkha: Goddess of Water

Believed to have originated in the ancient Sukhothai era (🇹🇭), Loy Krathong is closely tied to Buddhism. Due to Thailand’s traditionally agrarian society, waterways play a vital role in the lives of the people. Thailand’s rivers are like the veins of the country, connecting communities and sustaining the kingdom’s crops and commerce.

King Ramkhamhaeng (🇹🇭), known to be a devoted Buddhist, proposed that his people pay tribute to Buddha and the Goddess of Water, known in Thai as Phra Mae Khongkha. It is also believed that as the krathong drifts away, it carries your sorrow and misfortune with it.

In one of the many legends surrounding the festival, the King’s consort, Nang Noppamas (🇹🇭), was the first to create a krathong. In awe, the King decreed that every citizen should celebrate the day with a decorated basket in the same fashion. In homage to the legend, Nang Noppamas is now the title bestowed upon the winner of the Loy Krathong beauty pageant.

Modern celebrations

Although celebrated nationwide, the festival is not considered an official public holiday in Thailand. Nevertheless, the most famous destinations for Loy Krathong festivities are Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Ayutthaya, Sukhothai, and Tak. 

In addition to the tradition of assembling and floating krathong, the festival is also known for its spectacular Thai dance, historical plays, and concession stands—the hallmark of any Thai festival.

With environmental concerns at an all-time high, Thais are now rejecting the use of Styrofoam and other toxic materials in making krathong that could pollute marine ecosystems. Festival-goers have called for a return to natural materials, such as banana leaves, banana stalks, coconut shells, and other biodegradables.

Nonetheless, the popularity of the festival has led to rivers and canals choked off by the sheer number of krathong. Some Thais have elected to float a single krathong for the whole family, observe the tradition in their own homes, or use a Loy Krathong app to pay their respects, eliminating their waste entirely. 

Yi Peng

Coinciding with Loy Krathong is Chiang Mai’s Yi Peng festival, where thousands of khom loy, or sky lanterns, light up the night. Dating back to the Lanna Kingdom (literally, “Kingdom of a Million Rice Fields”), the festival represents the transition from the dark and rainy monsoon season to the sunnier days of the cool season. Locals believe that releasing a lantern allows you to let go of your worries and make a wish.

Today, Chiang Mai celebrates by decorating their streets with hanging lanterns and flags. As part of the festival, locals from the north also host traditional dances, live music, handicraft sessions, fireworks, and even the “Yi Peng Parade.” 

COVID-19 Disclaimer: The activities described here may be suspended due to movement and gathering restrictions as prescribed by COVID-19 health precautions.

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