Lantern Festival of the Yee Peng Month
Hanging Lanterns (Kome)
During the Rattanakosin (Bangkok) era, especially when King Mongkut (Rama IV) reigned over the kingdom, the Brahmin ceremony was adopted along with Buddhist ceremonies. The ceremony would begin during the evening with chanting of prayers. The lanterns would then be left overnight until the early morning meal of the monks. This sacred ceremony is presided over by ten high ranking monks.
Dating back to ancient days, the decorative ceremony of lanterns was based on Brahmin beliefs or Brahminism. At this ceremony the people of long ago paid respect by worshipping three different gods. These gods were Pra I-Suan, Pra Narai, and Pra Prom. For this reverent ceremony, the candles used to light up the lantern were made from cow's fat or wax that came from within the royal gates of the reigning monarch. Usually these candles were made by a Brahmin priest, and of course, the process of making the candles strictly followed the requirements of a Brahmin ceremony.
Formerly, lantern decorations were commonly seen hanging on all mansions in the grand palace. The great numbers and the beauty of the lanterns reflected the status of the royal family members. (Next to the king, the titles of royalty were "Jow Fah", "Pra Ong Jow", "Mom Jow", "Mom Rajawong" and "Mom Luang"). There were also three classifications of lanterns, which were the Kome Chai, Kome Pra-Tiab, and Kome Boriwan.
Up until the present time, a tradition developed wherein people sacrifice their time to design and to assemble various kinds of strong, beautiful, and creative lanterns. The worshippers donated the lanterns to the temples asking their wishes to be fulfilled. Usually the person would say a prayer, requesting his desire to be a sharp, brighter, and a more clever person in the future. This belief is based on the comparison that a bright light would lead a person out of his present darkness into a lustrous future.
As mentioned earlier, these lanterns were devoted to the three different gods. The lanterns were also presented to high ranking officials and wealthy people. It is then interesting to understand why Komes were so presentable and how these lanterns are made. The main structure of these lanterns are usually made with bamboo and covered with a coarse palm paper or cloth. Inside, a bamboo cylinder was necessary to protect the possible burning of the paper since altogether 24 candles were required to light up the lantern. This large number of candles made illumination possible for about three hours. Candles were not always used to light these lanterns. Oils such as sesame seed, castor, or coconut oils were also used. The creation of these lanterns is open for the public to see and study how they are made at Chiang Inn Plaza during this festival.
People thought that lanterns could only be lit during Buddhist holidays or ceremonies. But actually, lanterns can be lit every evening or night. These lanterns can be hung on gates, fences, doors, windows, or the roof, or any place an individual wants to adorn with these delightful creations.
There have been four different purposes for the northern Thais to hang lanterns. They are for beauty, to pay respect to Buddha images, to make one's home or mansion brighter, and for propitious purposes.
Nowadays, there are four traditional Komes in the north that attract visitors every year. They are 1) Kome Thuea (carrying lantern) or Kome Gratai (a rabbit's ear), 2) Kome Kwaen (hanging lantern), 3) Kome Paad (revolving lantern), and 4) Kome Loy (hot air floating lantern).
A Kome Thuea or Kome Gratai has a lighted candle inside. A Buddhist believer will carry it along during the Yee Peng Parade. When the parade is over, the worshippers will take the lanterns and decorate the temples, vihara, and other buildings. If there are other celebrations other than the Yee Peng Festival, beautifully made lanterns are used to decorate a stage. Usually, a lantern shaped as a lotus is used to pay respect and the citizens will pray to the Buddha images and make offerings to the monks.
Kome Kwaen are also offered to pay respect and prayers to Buddha images are made. There are several shapes of this certain lantern. They are the Baat Pra (Alms bowl), Dow (Star), Ta Gra (Basket), and Tammajak (the wheel of law which means to have a thorough knowledge about religious discourses). The Buddhists will hang these lanterns around a temple, vihara, alms-house, sala, or house.
The Kome Paad is an interesting lantern since it revolves on an axis. This is done with the aide of the heat from the candle's smoke. In order to make it revolve, the candle is placed inside the lantern where little gadgets take the energy from the smoke and then revolves. The lantern is shaped like a circle, almost like the earth. Usually there are pictures glued on, such as the 12 characters of the horoscope. This revolving lantern will give the effect of shadow puppets. Kome Paad can only be seen during the Yee Peng Festival. It is placed in the temple gates and is not allowed to be moved from one place to another.
The Kome Loy is a lantern that is similar to a hot-air-balloon. It is also quite similar to that of a normal lantern except it does not require 24 candles for illumination. Because the air lantern must rise up to float in the air, it must be lightweight, therefore, it does not have a bamboo cylinder inside. In order to send the lantern into the air, it requires a method to heat the air. This is done by tying a small bowl underneath the open section of the lantern. Oil is then placed into the bowl along with a cotton cloth. As the oil catches fire and commences burning, the hot air quickly travels into the lantern and it soon rises into the air.
It is believed that by sending off these lanterns an individual can send one's sins and bad luck into the air. Usually before the lantern soars into the sky, an individual will pray that one's sin or bad luck will be transported on the lantern and floated away high into the sky. Sometimes an address is left inside. The purpose of this is when the lantern come back down to the ground, and individual can follow an address and seek for money from whomever wrote the address. Or even sometimes, the maker will put some money inside the lantern. The purpose of the hot air lantern is to worship and pay respect to the Phra Ged Kaew Ju La Manee. An old legend tells that during war, these lanterns were sent into enemy territory and exploded.
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