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Naang Noppamart:
The Originator of the
Loy Krathong Festival

Long ago at the royal court of the Kingdom of Sukhothai there was a Brahman priest and his wife. It was the Brahman's duty to perform such ceremonies as the monarch, King Pra-ruang, requested. It was his special duty to decorate the palace for the Duan Sibsong (twelfth month) festival. The couple had a daughter and as she grew they realised that she would be extremely beautiful, intelligent and artistically talented. Because of her father's own knowledge and privileged position at the court, she had great opportunities to further her education and at an early age she could read and write the Thai language as well as Sanskrit. Through the texts that were available in the libraries of the city she became knowledgeable about astronomy and astrology, she studied poetry and became an accomplished poet and gained great knowledge of the origins of the Duan Sibsong ceremony and its rituals.

With her dainty fingers she could make intricate and beautiful garlands of flowers and was enormously skilful at fruit and vegetable carving. With her beauty and talent, and her presence around the royal court, it is no surprise that she caught the eye of King Pra-ruang, and at the tender age of 17 was taken as one of his concubines. Her name was Naang Noppamart.

The Duan Sibsong ceremony had come to northern Thailand through circuitous routes. Ancient Hindu custom was to worship their triple deities with lanterns mounted on long poles in the twelfth lunar month. This was then followed by the floating of lanterns to worship the spirit of the Ganges, the mother of waters. This symbolized the end of the monsoon and was possibly originally a ceremony to request the rivers to reduce their flow and enable the rice to be harvested. With the expansion of the Hindu religion over much of Southeast Asia, these traditions of worship would have found their way to the Hindu Khmer state during its time of glory and then northwest into Thailand, probably reaching the Mon kingdom of Haripoonchai before the rise of the Lanna kings.

King Pra-ruang wanted to create a Sukhothai flavor in the Duan Sibsong ceremony and organized a competition to be judged on the night of the 12th full moon for a new design of the floating lanterns. Naang Noppamart exercised her talents wisely and made a beautiful float entirely of fruits and flowers, using the stem of the banana for buoyancy and decorated with banana leaves to resemble the leaf of the lotus. Her creation easily won the contest and the king decreed that henceforth this Krathong (originally Khamot in the northern dialect) should be the standard carrier of light for the ceremony.

Naang Noppamart grew to be King Pra-ruang's favorite and led a comfortable life, though using her abilities to their best advantage. Amongst other achievements she wrote Tumrub Thao Srichulaluck, an autobiography and a text on the history and performance of the Duan Sibsong ceremony.

Legend or reality? Who knows? Whatever, it lends a further layer of charm to Loy Krathong, and to this day the beauty queen winning the Loy Krathong beauty contest is given the title Naang Noppamart.

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