Monday, April 27, 2015
Thailand's Festival of Lights
By Ashley Liporace
The Loi Krathong festival lights up the night and water ways each year with beautiful lanterns. It has been a tradition for thousands of years in Thailand, a celebration of the end of the rainy season. The Loi Krathong or Yee Peng festival of lights takes place every year during the full moon on the twelfth month in the Thai Lunar Calendar. Parades, beauty contests, food, fireworks, and, of course, lanterns are all part of the festival that takes place from one to three days every November.
The Loi Krathong festival was originally an ancient Brahmanic festival. People would pay respects to their gods, Phra I-Suan (Shiva), Phra Narai (Vishnu) and Phra Phrom (Brahma). Lanterns made out of candles and paper were displayed in the homes of royalty, the wealthy class, or high ranking officials. About 150 years ago, King Mongkut or Rama IV of Thailand, declared the festival be adopted as a Buddhist ceremony in honor of the Buddha. Since then, many different types of lanterns have been created for different purposes with different meanings behind them.
In northern Thailand, lanterns are known as Khom. Most lanterns are made from paper with a bamboo cylinder inside to protect it from the heat of the candle. There are four different types of lanterns. The first type, called Khom Theua or carrying lantern, are brought to the parade and from there carried to the temples for decoration. Another type is the Khom Kwaen or hanging lantern, which is offered to the Buddha. The hanging lantern comes in four different shapes; star, alms bowl, basket, and wheel. The third type of lantern is placed inside the temple gates; it is circular in shape normally featuring the twelve signs of the horoscope. At the temple, prayers are offered mostly that one’s wishes and hopes for the future will be fulfilled. Finally, there is the Khom Loi, the lantern that floats up into the sky. The Khom Loi is a cylinder of paper braced with wire circles. At the bottom, there is a tray that has cotton soaked in kerosene. Once lit, it is released into the air.
The Khom Loi is one of a few lanterns that have specific meaning. It is believed that as you launch the Khom Loi into the sky you are sending your bad luck and misfortune away to the Buddha. If it catches on fire before it disappears into the night then it is a plus. Many people attach their address to these lanterns so that if someone finds it and returns them to the owner, they will get a reward. They do this to share the good fortune. In the northern city Chiang Mai, thousands of these balloon lanterns are released into the air every festival year.
In the water, Krathong or floating lights are release down river to honor the water goddess Phra Mae Kong Ka. Just like the Khom Loi, the Krathong are a symbol for letting go of bad luck and misfortune. Traditionally, the floating lights are about 20 centimeters and are made from both the leaves and wood of a banana tree. They are decorated with flowers, a candle and joss sticks (incense). Some people will leave coins, locks of hair or even nail clippings in the lanterns. According to legend, in the fourteenth century one of the Kings of Sukothai had a Brahmin priest. The priest had a daughter; she made the first Krathong out of banana leaves, shaped it like a lotus flower, added a candle and incense sticks. She then presented it to the king. He lit the candle and incense stick and released it into the river to float away. Ever since then Krathong have been floating down rivers each November.
In the ancient city of Chiang Mai, releasing Krathongs did not become popular until 1909, when Queen Dara Rasami, the wife of King Rama V, released a Krathong on the Ping River. Since then, more than one thousand Krathongs are released during the Loi Krathong festival in Chiang Mai. Past and present governors have made Yee Peng festival even more popular to promote tourism in Chiang Mai. The festival has become more than spiritual with the addition of a beauty contest and the Kratong Parade to attract more tourists. On Loi Krathong Yai, the night of the full moon, Khom Loi and Krathongs are released into the air and water. Thousands of lights light up the sky and river, mirroring each other.
Whether one is a native of Thailand or a visitor from another country, everyone takes part in this breath-taking tradition.
Ashley Liporace is a junior at St. Thomas Aquinas College, majoring in Graphic Design with a minor in Marketing. She loves to study different cultures and would like to visit Thailand during the Yee Peng festival.
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