The Awe-Inspiring Origin and History of the Loi Krathong Festival in Thailand
There is no doubt about it: Thais LOVE festivals and holidays. It’s almost as if there is a cause for celebration any other week. Although in all fairness not all are about laughing, dancing and frolicking such as the wet frivolities of Songkran. Some of them are more somber and meditative affairs like the recent Visakha Bucha day. After all, a deep reverence for religion and culture permeates the everyday life of the Thai people. And then you have Loi Krathong.
Loi Krathong – The Festival of Light. Here you have all the fun and joyous festivities combined with the main procession so beautiful that it will leave you in awe and silence.
We hope that our ambiguous description intrigued you a little bit. So, let’s learn more about the origins of Loi Krathong, what it is, and where to celebrate it.
What is Loi Krathong?
The literal translation is the essence of the festival: “to float a basket/boat/other things that float”. These small baskets – Krathongs – are either made of banana leaves, bread, coconut shells, or any other biodegradable material. That’s the reason why the people who use Styrofoam as their chosen material get the Game of Thrones ”Shame” treatment. At least we think so…
The Krathongs are then decorated with various ornaments, the main one being a candle. It’s not called “The Festival of Light” for nothing, after all. This symbolizes the reverence the Thais have for the Buddha. Besides the candle, a basket contains lighted incense sticks, flowers, and a coin as a tribute to the water spirits. Even strands of hair or fingernail clippings find their way onto the boat. The reason for this is to rid oneself of past anger and negative thoughts.
Then on the evening of the full moon of the 12th lunar month, everyone gathers around a body of water to release their basket. They make a wish or a prayer at the same time as well. You see, this specific full moon usually falls on a November day and what ends in November? The rainy season! Loi Krathong marks the end of it, which already is enough to break out the kegs, am I right? The Thais thank the water Goddess Phra Mae Khongkha for receiving plenty of water during this period. This tradition harkens back to a time when Thailand was mainly an agricultural country. They also ask her for forgiveness for wasting too much water or for contaminating it. The irony when someone is using a Styrofoam basket…
Since the festival is about the ‘end’ of something old, the Thais see it as an opportunity to ‘begin’ something new. By releasing a little makeshift boat, each individual moves forward into the future with a fresh and positive mindset.
You can see now by the many meanings of this procession, how important Loi Krathong is to the Thai people.
The History of Loi Krathong
The most persistent origin of Loi Krathong revolves around a court lady called Nopphamat. She supposedly lived during the reign of King Sri Indraditya in the mid-13th century. It is said that she was the first one to float a garnished boat. As it turns out, however, this lovely lady and the entire story is a work of fiction, created by King Nangklao (Rama III) in 1850. His successor King Mongkut (Rama IV) shed a different light (no pun intended) on the origin. He stated that it used to be a festival celebrated by the Brahmins in ancient India. Eventually, Thai Buddhists brought it over to their country as a way to honor the Buddha, hence the candle on the Krathong. Again, there are no irrefutable sources to back up this story, nor can it tell us when this exactly was supposed to have happened.
What we do know with certainty is that over the years Loi Krathong evolved into one of Thailand’s most awe-inspiring festivals that you don’t want to miss out on.
The Festivities of Loi Krathong
The breathtaking procession where thousands of candles illuminate the rivers, lakes, ponds, and coastal areas all across Thailand, takes place in the late hours of the 23rd November 2018. In Chiang Mai, the fun already starts on the 21st, while Sukhothai, due to its (somewhat) historical ties, even celebrates Loi Krathong for five days!
Throughout the entirety of the jolly good times, the Thais often wear a traditional Thai outfit (chut thai). We can safely say that women look ravishing in theirs while men appear as dapper as princes. This display of beauty is also part of a pageant, where the lovely ladies clad themselves in attires that are fit for a Queen. Competitiveness also lies at the heart of dance, song, and Krathong-making contests. It is particularly fascinating to see the creativity with which the contestants design their elaborate boats.
But, of course, it wouldn’t be a proper festival without parades and fireworks as lavish and brightly colored as the Krathongs themselves. It also goes without saying that there will be enough food to please your taste buds and not to please the weight scale. I mean, have you heard of a Thai festival where there is no food? Yeah, neither have we.
Chiang Mai is in our opinion the best place to get the most out of your Loi Krathong experience. Not only because of everything we have mentioned thus far but also because the festival of Yi Peng coincides with it. Double the fun! Instead of floating baskets, people release floating lanterns (khom loy) up into the sky as yet another way to pay respect to the Buddha. The light of the lantern represents a brighter future as well, in which everyone distances themselves from the darkness. This magical sight of an illuminated sky occurs a day before the Loi Krathong processions.
Will You Float, Too…?
Okay, I just legitimately freaked myself out by referencing the ‘It’ movie/book…
A-A-ANYWAY! Songkran might take the crown for the most popular festival in Thailand, but Loi Krathong can claim the title for the most visually stunning one. Let us know in the comments if you had the opportunity yet to participate in these merry festivities. We are especially interested in your Instagram-worthy pictures showing thousands of candles lighting up the horizon. In case you haven’t experienced Loi Krathong yet, then we hope to see you this November.
Also… is that a red balloon over there…?