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The Charm and Sparkle of Loy Krathong

According to the Lunar Calendar, the Loy Krathong Festival (pronounced Gratong) falls in the 12th full moon of the year. So the actual date of celebration varies from year to year. This year (2005) the moonlight holiday will be celebrated in a big way from Wednesday, November 9th until Sunday, the 20th. The festival events--parades, prayers and ceremonies throughout these dates will touch many human hearts -- visitor and Thai alike.

Events at the Thapae Gate Corner and in front of the Chiang Mai Municipal Buildings.

  1. Decorated Kratong Contest (Large and Small). On November 16, the contest for Best Decorated Kratong takes place in front of the Chiang Mai Municipality. The activity will begin at 8.30 am consisting of three levels. The first level is a contest of elementary students. The second is for secondary students. And the last one is for Students: high school, universities, colleges and those interested.
  2. Floating Lantern Contest
  3. Decorated Archway Contest
  4. Punting rafts Contest
  5. Diving
  6. Miss Noppamard Beauty Competition
  7. Entertainment

Essentially, Loy Krathong is a simple ceremony in which a small raft (krathong), decorated with flowers and topped by a flickering candle flame, is cast adrift on the waterways of Thailand. However, when this small individual ceremony, under the incandescent light of the full moon, is performed by millions of people at the same time, it becomes a spectacle of light, joy and emotion. Thailand's most aesthetically beautiful festival is, therefore, one of simplicity -- and it is seated here in the northern regions of the ancient Kingdoms of Lanna-Thai and Sukothai.

In former times, the Festival of Loy Krathong was one of rural folk whose economic life depended upon the land and the abundance of rain, which watered it. The rivers and canals (klongs) were full, sometimes to overflowing, the paddies had been ploughed and the rice crop planted. It was a time of hard, physical, backbreaking work -- but the hard labor was now finished and the farmer could look forward to the end of the rainy season and the rich harvest it would bring. In this period of relative rest between planting and harvesting, the farmer and his family could relax, celebrate the end of hard work and offer prayers of thanks to the deities who provided such abundant, annual sustenance.

Most important of the deities thanked was Mae Kongka or the Mother of Water (interestingly, Kongka is the Hindu word for "Ganges" or "Ganga"). Not only did the Mother of Water give of her life-force but the never-ending movement and flowing of the force represented yesterday, today and tomorrow. Disasters, disappointments and sins of the past could be atoned for in present time to bring new horizons of hope and success in the future. As to why a krathong became part of prayers and thanksgiving to the Mother of Water, a lovely legend has it that over 700 years ago, in the ancient Kingdom of Sukothai, a beautiful Royal Lady (Naang) made a small kratong and placed it in a gently flowing steam near the Royal Court.

The word krathong means, "a cup made of leaf". So originally it was a small cup made from banana or bamboo leaves which was decorated and launched into the stream. Nowadays it is a flat raft rather than a cup. The raft is made from a horizontal slice, about 1-inch thick, of banana tree-trunk, which is biodegradable and buoyant. It is also soft so toothpicks that are used to hold the decoration in place can pierce it. The circumference is wrapped with patterns of cut banana leaf and bright flowers while, on the top, a candle and sticks of incense are inserted. Some small coins may also be placed on the krathong but these may become prey to small boys in search of treasure. Many talented Thai people make their own krathong for themselves and other members of the family but for those with lesser skills, or no time available, it is easy to purchase a ready-made krathong from the numerous riverside stalls. They cost from around 50 Baht, and upwards, so no one has an excuse for not having a krathong to Loy (float).

With no one having a reason for not having a krathong, even government, municipalities, commercial enterprises and major institution create huge krathongs that blaze with glitter, light and pageant. These will be paraded and, some, eventually floated on the River Ping. Each krathong, mounted atop a motorized truck with its own power generator, will be judged for design, theme and excellence by a panel of experts.

In Chiang Mai, there will be a bounty of events, firework displays and parades (see separate guide list) for everyone to enjoy. And for each individual, including visitors to our Northern Provinces, it is so easy to be part of this wonderful festival. Simply make or buy your krathong, wend your way to the banks of the River Ping (or any other popular waterway) and join the throngs of Thai people making ready to launch the little rafts. Light the incense and candle, and gently place in the flow. It is time to perhaps say a silent prayer, ask for forgiveness, make a wish or chase a dream as your personal krathong bobs, weaves and jostles in the current of water and river of flickering light from thousands of other krathongs. It is all part of the emotional symbolism, reverence, happiness and joyful celebration that are encompassed by our Loy Krathong Festival. One of Siam's most revered monarchs, H.M. King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) wrote, "Loy Krathong has nothing to do with any recognized ceremony or rite. It is merely a matter of rejoicing in which all the people take part". As the song lyrics put it (and you will hear this song many times) "November's full moon shines, Loy Krathong, Loy Krathong -- And the water is high in river and klong, Loy Krathong, Loy Krathong" -- this traditional and gorgeous Thai festival is at its best in the ancient Kingdoms of Lanna-Thai and Sukothai. Participate and feel your life enriched!

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