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Loy Kratong

According to one of the most popular legends, years ago a Buddhist King fell in love with a woman called Nopamas. As beautiful as she was clever, Nopamas was collectively praised for her extraordinary nature. She and the King enjoyed the greatest happiness together, and eventually were married. After a blissful wedding, preparation for a Buddhist celebration began. Although Nopamas had married a King who was a practicing Buddhist, she still remained true to her Brahmin faith, worshipping her own idols and spirits according to the precepts her family had taught her in early childhood.

It was a Brahmin custom that, at the end of the year, during the full moon of the twelfth lunar month, all people should prepare suitable offerings to present to the river spirits in order to obtain pardon and the absolution of sins. Towards the end of the year, as people were beginning the celebration, Nopamas secretly arranged to perform her own religious rites, and for this purpose she made a small boat-like structure, called a 'krathong', made from banana leaves. She stitched strips of banana leaves together and pinned them around the edge of the little boat for ornamentation. She then took fresh fruits and deftly carved them into flowers, piling them up in a conical arrangement in the center. Finishing her arabesque, she adorned it with scented incense sticks.

The start of a twinkling festival

On the day of the celebration the King discovered Nopamas' handiwork and, though she feared he would be angered by her secretive practice, he was impressed by the remarkable beauty of her craft. He lit the incense and floated the tiny boat down the river. Marveling at the twinkling spectacle, he declared that the nation's people should perform a similar ritual, praising the spirits of the water annually. Thus, the festival of Loy Krathong floated to the surface of Thai culture.

A nationwide celebration that has become an excuse for a big-time party over the years, the tradition of Loy Krathong remains strongest in agricultural societies where the river provides life and sustenance. Similar to methods described in the story of Nopamas, 'krathongs' are delicately fashioned from banana leaves in the shape of lotus flowers and garnished with candles and incense. After nightfall, crowds of people flock to the riversides toting their preciously crafted 'krathongs' and releasing them into the water.

Not necessarily a modern ritual of a religious nature, the gesture of releasing a 'krathong' inspires luck and forgiveness for misdeeds. This is the time to seek redemption for sinful over-indulgence. The ritual holds significance for young lovers as well as the guilt-ridden. Myths suggest that a couple should release their 'krathongs' together. If the 'krathongs' manage to float together, the relationship will follow accordingly. However, if the 'krathongs' split, the couple should anticipate a similar fate. A rather romantic notion, though some relationships certainly don't need floating lotus flowers to predict their demise.

Loy Krathong today

In addition to the floating of these tiny vessels, Loy Krathong incorporates a variety of activities into the festivities. Roads to the piers are bustling with vendors as crowds of people make their way to the banks of the river. Parades, fireworks, music, dancing, theatrical performances and beauty pageants all contribute to the merriment of the atmosphere. Continuing until the wee hours of the morning, Loy Krathong welcomes the spirit of good fun.

After a full night of partying, even the most die-hard participant reluctantly must make his way home. What remains of Loy Krathong is the dreadful task of cleaning the rivers and canals. Millions of krathongs must be retrieved, presenting a rather overwhelming environmental issue. In recent years, however, the city administration of Bangkok has begun to discourage the use of Styrofoam in creating the krathongs, as Styrofoam is non-biodegradable and hazardous to the fish population. Concerned celebrators have responded by baking bread in the shape of krathongs to escape the danger of fish consumption. Additionally, teachers have begun instilling environmental significance into the myth, emphasizing the importance of paying thanks to 'Mother River'.


Loy Kratong

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