Loy Krathong and Water Festivals around the Region

Loy Krathong and Water Festivals around the Region

Loy Krathong and Water Festivals around the Region

Loy Krathong is a season of festivity celebrated annually in much of the Southeast Asian mainland. For the Thais, it’s a festival of lights, and one of the Kingdom’s landmark events. The same is true for Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar. There are many different reasons to celebrate.

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A Krathong featuring the likeness of Phya Naga, the mythical Great Serpent, in Laos // Photo: www.hotsia.com

In Laos, the equivalent of Loy Krathong Festival usually happens before anywhere else in the ASEAN. Known as Boun Awk Phansa, it is celebrated on the day of the full moon of the eleventh lunar month, or around October in the Western calendar. The occasion marks the end of the three-month-long rains retreat often referred to as Buddhist Lent.

The celebration begins at dawn when laypeople attend almsgiving ceremonies at temples across the country. The night is aglow when colorful floats made of banana leaves, flowers, incense sticks, and candles are launched in thanksgiving to the river spirit. The tradition is known as Lhai Heua Fai.

Rowboat races are landmark events in the Cambodian Water Festival in Phnom Penh. // Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/photasia/
The atmosphere of the Cambodian Water Festival near Tonle Sap Lake in front of the Royal Palace // Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/photasia/
Bon Om Touk or Water Festival in Cambodia // Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/photasia/

In neighboring Cambodia, the occasion is celebrated big time and goes on for three days. Known as Bon Om Touk, the Water Festival is commemorated with plenty of fun events hosted by communities around Tonle Sap Lake on the 14th and 15th nights of the waxing moon, and the night of the new moon. The tradition culminates in exciting rowboat races and a ceremony dedicated to memories of a waterborne battle against Cham states that are central and southern Vietnam today.

Myanmar celebrates its version of Loy Krathong based on traditional stories about King Asoke the Great and the mythical Phya Naga. The Myanmar experience, which is specifically about the public veneration of the Great Serpent, is held on the day of the full moon of the 12th lunar month.

The Loy Krathong tradition doesn’t exist in Vietnam, except for a few areas in the central part of the country.   

A spectacular light and sound show in Sukhothai, the purported birthplace of Thailand’s Loy Krathong Festival. // Photo: Sukhothai Loy Krathong and Candle Festival
The atmosphere of a venue for Loy Krathong Festival in Thailand // Photo: John Shedrick
A sight to behold, sky lanterns symbolize the letting go of problems and worries in people’s lives. Locally known as Yi Peng, the Lantern Festival is popular in the Northern Region and coincides with Thailand’s Loy Krathong Festival. The unique tradition has been officially prohibited in the past few years for aviation safety reason and a precaution against house fires. // Photo: Mith Huang
Loy Krathong Festival in Thailand // photo: Robertpollai

As for Thailand, Loy Krathong has become one of the country’s tourism industry success stories. The festival takes place annually on the night of the full moon of the twelfth lunar month, usually around November. It is often claimed that the festival has its origin in the Sukhothai Period, but this proved not to be the case.

Written work by King Rama IV in 1863 indicated that the practice was adopted by Thai Buddhists during the reign of King Rama III. It has become a traditional veneration of the Buddha ever since. Like so, the Kingdom pays tribute to the teaching of the Buddha with light. The floating of Krathong or banana-trunk floats symbolizes letting go of episodes that debase life and the dignity of the human person.

The Thai Loy Krathong experience is seen as a chapter in the influence of the civilization of India. Brahmanism and Buddhism both spread into the Southeast Asian mainland until about 1500. Eventually the countries of the mainland became predominantly Buddhist.

Convergent evidence points to a piece of written work by King Rama III, which mentions Thao Srichulaluck, or Nang Noppamas, as a court lady during the period of the Phra Ruang Dynasty that ruled the Kingdom of Sukhothai from 1238 to 1438. The story refers to the practice of making banana-leaf containers bedecked with lotus flowers and setting them adrift in the river as a means of paying homage to the Buddha. Other evidence also refers to candle lighting and pyrotechnic displays as the public veneration, but falls short of mentioning the Krathong.

Loy Krathong is celebrated nationwide in modern-day Thailand. The exact date of the festival changes from year to year. As for 2017, the full moon of the twelfth lunar month falls on November 3. The Thais mark this important day with almsgiving and other acts of kindliness. At night they head for the river, where they launch the Krathong adorned with flowers, incense, and candles. Some ask forgiveness from the river spirit for any wrongdoing they may have committed. Others trim their hair and fingernails, put them on the Krathong along with some money, and set it adrift as a way of making all the bad things go away.

A colorful bread Krathong
A DIY block of ice Krathong in Thailand

The river is aglow with candle lights as the season of festivity culminates in spectacular firework displays. Lately loud firecrackers have banned in some areas for safety reason. As a means of protecting the environment, only biodegradable materials, such as banana trunk and leaves, are encouraged. As a result, foam sheets that were popular twenty years ago have begun to disappear, albeit not entirely. But the fight to safeguard the environment continues, which gives rise to many inventive ideas. Some people use bread, tree barks, even blocks of ice as a means of keeping the Krathong afloat for the duration of the festival. Others are seen using booklets of lottery tickets that didn’t win to buoy up the weight of the basket.

 

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