Loy Krathong (or Loi Kratong, Thai ลอยกระทง) is a festival celebrated annually throughout Thailand. It is held on the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar, in the western calendar this usually falls into November. The Thai tradition of Loy Kratong started off in Sukhothai, but is now celebrated throughout Thailand, with the festivities in Chiang Mai and Ayutthaya being particularly well known.
“Loi” means “to float”. “Krathong” is a raft about a handspan in diameter traditionally made from a section of banana tree trunk (although modern-day versions use specially made bread 'flowers' and may use styrofoam), decorated with elaborately-folded banana leaves, flowers, candles, incense sticks etc.
Loy Krathong is one of the most beautiful and popular festivals in Thailand. During the evening, many people will go down to their local klong (canal) or river to float their krathongs. They believe this will bring them good luck. The krathongs (see picture above) contain a flower, a candle and three incense sticks which are lighted before being placed on the water. The people usually make a wish at the same time. Some people believe that if the candle remains burning until the krathong is out of sight then their wish will come true. By the end of the evening, there are hundreds of flickering lights bobbing up and down on the water. Quite often there are also firework displays as well as shows and beauty contests for everyone. Overall it is really a memorable evening.
The Loy Krathong festival dates back to the time of the Sukhothai Kingdom, about 700 years ago. It marked the end of the rainy season and the main rice harvest. It is based on a Hindu tradition of thanking the water god for the waters. The farmers of Sukhothai used to hold a festival of floating candles. One year, a beautiful woman called Noppamas, who was the chief royal consort, made some special lanterns for the festival. She made them from banana leaves and shaped them like lotus flowers. The king was impressed with what he saw, so he announced that krathongs would be floated on the water every year from then on. Today, the memory of that woman who made the first krathong is remembered in a beauty contest called "The Noppamas Queen Contest".
According to the writings of H.M. King Rama IV in 1863, the originally Brahmanical festival was adapted by Buddhists in Thailand as a ceremony to honour the Lord Buddha. Apart from venerating the Buddha with light (the candle on the raft), the act of floating away the candle raft is symbolic of letting go of all one's grudges, anger and defilements, so that one can start life afresh on a better foot. People will also cut their fingernails and hair and add them to the raft as a symbol of letting go of the bad parts of oneself. Many Thai believe that floating a krathong will create good luck, and they do it to honor and thank the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha.
The beauty contests that accompany the festival are known as "Noppamas Queen Contests". According to legend, Noppamas was a consort of the Sukothai king Loethai (14th century) and she was the first to float decorated krathongs.
I did not have the chance to visit some beautiful places here in Thailand where Loy Krathong was being celebrated like Pattaya, Phuket, etc... But passing through some small rivers and lake when I was on my way home and seeing people placing their Krathongs in the water was enough to see how this Thai people pay respect to their gods. I am sure everyone had fun that night. Not only Thai people celebrated this festival. I also saw some foreigners and fellow Filipinos went to celebrate too. It was a lovely night seeing fireworks in the sky and candlelights floating in the water. Too bad it was not holiday. By the way, Loy Krathong was celebrated last November 24, 2007, Saturday.