Loi Krathong


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Loi Krathong

Type of Holiday: Religious (Buddhist)
Date of Observation: November; fifteenth day of waxing moon in twelth lunar month
Where Celebrated: Thailand
Symbols and Customs: Krathong, Lotus

ORIGINS

Loi Krathong is part of the religious tradition of Buddhism, one of the four largest religious families in the world. Buddhism is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (c. 563-483 B . C . E .), who came to be known as Buddha, or "The Enlightened One." The basic tenets of Buddhism can be summarized in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths are 1) the truth and reality of suffering; 2) suffering is caused by desire; 3) the way to end suffering is to end desire; and 4) the Eightfold Path shows the way to end suffering. The Eightfold Path consists of 1) right view or right understanding; 2) right thoughts and aspirations; 3) right speech; 4) right conduct and action; 5) right way of life; 6) right effort; 7) right mindfulness; and 8) right contemplation.

Loi Krathong, which is considered the most beautiful festival in Thailand, is said to have originated more than 800 years ago. King Ramakhamhaeng of Sukhotai, the first capital of Thailand, was making a pilgrimage on the river from temple to temple. One of his wives, Nang Nophames, wanted to please both her husband and Lord Buddha, so she made a KRATHONG or paper lantern resembling a LOTUS flower, put a candle in it, and set it afloat. The king was so delighted he decreed that his subjects should follow this custom every year. Another theory about the origin of Loi Krathong claims that it goes back even further, to the ancient practice of paying tribute to Me Khongkha, the Mother of Water. The small coins and other items placed in the bottom of the krathong are meant as tokens to ask forgiveness for the ways in which humankind has abused its most precious natural resource. Yet another theory claims that the festival celebrates the lotus blossoms that sprang up when the Buddha took his first baby steps, or that it atones for the sin of passing in boats over the footprints of Buddha, which may be imbedded in the riverbottom.

Thais celebrate the "Festival of the Floating Leaf Cups" by going down to the nearest river or canal and floating small lamps or lanterns in the shape of animals, birds, dragons, airplanes, battleships, or other objects on the water. If there is no moving water nearby, the lanterns are set afloat on irrigation ditches. They are usually made out of banana leaves or paper. As they float out of sight, the individuals who launched them makes a wish. If the candle stays lit until the krathong disappears, it is believed that the wish will come true.

Houses and temples are decorated with colored streamers and lights throughout the three days of the festival, particularly in villages that are not located on rivers or canals. The monks, who are forbidden to take part in the floating of the krathong, conduct services three times a day in the wat or temple. The women and girls attend all three services, but the men and boys usually attend only the evening service, after which drums and gongs are beaten, firecrackers are exploded, and the festivities continue until dawn.

Although Loi Krathong is celebrated throughout the country, it is especially significant in Sukhotai, which is where Nang Nophames set the first krathong afloat. A beauty contest is usually part of the celebration, and the winner gets to represent Nophames throughout the three days of the festival.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Krathong

Loi means "to float" and krathong is a "leaf cup" or "bowl." On the evening of the festival, Thais gather at the water after sunset to launch small lotus-shaped banana leaf or paper boats, each of which holds a lighted candle, a flower, and a small coin to honor the water spirits. Some say that the krathong is also a tribute to the snake named Phrajanag who lives at the bottom of the river or canal. According to legend, Phrajanag literally followed in the Buddha's footsteps and succeeded in reaching Nirvana.

Krathong or leaf cups, usually in the shape of a boat or a bird, go on sale several days before the festival. These commercially made krathong are really more like toys, and the stalls selling them are confined largely to cities and towns. In rural areas, people still make their own by hand.

The individual who has set the krathong afloat makes a wish as it drifts out of sight. If the candle is still burning when it disappears from view, it is believed that the wish will come true.

The paper or banana-leaf krathong are both an offering to appease the spirits of the river and a way of freeing oneself of the sins of the preceding year.

Lotus

Krathong are often made in the shape of a lotus blossom, which symbolizes the flowering of the human spirit under Buddhism. As a symbol, the lotus was adopted from the Hindus by the Buddhists in India, who introduced it into their sculpture, painting, and literature. It is identified with purity and perfection because it grows out of the mud and yet is not defiled by it. In much the same way, humankind should be able to live in an evil and impure world without being influenced by it.

FURTHER READING

Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Dobler, Lavinia G. Customs and Holidays Around the World. New York: Fleet Pub. Corp., 1962. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Shemanski, Frances. A Guide to World Fairs and Festivals. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985. Van Straalen, Alice. The Book of Holidays Around the World. New York: Dutton, 1986.

WEB SITE

Tourism Authority of Thailand www.tatnews.org/events/events/nov/2375.asp

Loi Krathong

October-November; full moon night of 12th lunar month
Loi Krathong is an ancient festival held under a full moon throughout Thailand, considered to be the loveliest of the country's festivals. After sunset, people make their way to the water to launch small lotus-shaped banana-leaf or paper boats, each holding a lighted candle, a flower, joss sticks, and a small coin. Loi means "to float" and Krathong is a "leaf cup" or "bowl."
There are several legends linked to the origins of this festival. One holds that the festival began about 700 years ago when King Ramakhamhaeng of Sukhothai, the first Thai capital, was making a pilgrimage on the river from temple to temple. One of his wives wanted to please both the king and the Lord Buddha, so she created a paper lantern resembling a lotus flower (which symbolizes the flowering of the human spirit), put a candle in it, and set it afloat. The king was so delighted he decreed that his subjects should follow this custom on one night of the year. Fittingly, the ruins of Sukhothai are the backdrop on the night of Loi Krathong for celebrations that include displays of lighted candles, fireworks, folk dancing, and a spectacular sound-and-light presentation.
A second legend traces the festival to the more ancient practice of propitiating the Mother of Water, Me Khongkha. The aim is to thank Me Khongkha and wash away the sins of the past year. The coins in the lotus cups are meant as tokens to ask forgiveness for thoughtless ways.
In yet another story, the festival celebrates the lotus blossoms that sprang up when the Buddha took his first baby steps.
A similar celebration is held in Washington, D.C., at the reflecting pool near the Lincoln Memorial. Dinner and participation are by paid ticket, but anyone passing can watch the adult, child, and teen dances and the exhibition of martial arts; and after dark, the floating candles.
CONTACTS:
Tourism Authority of Thailand
611 N. Larchmont Blvd., Fl. 2
Los Angeles, CA 90004
800-842-4526 or 323-962-9574; fax: 323-461-9834
www.thai-la.net
SOURCES:
BkHolWrld-1986, Nov 17
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 666
GdWrldFest-1985, p. 173
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