"Festival of the Floating Leaf Cups"

The Loy Krathong Celebration in Thailand

  Fig 1: Map of Thailand provided by lonely planet.com  http://www.lonelyplanet.com/mapshells/south_east_asia/thailand/thailand.htmn

 

Abstract

Loy Krathong is a celebration in Thailand that is comprised of multiple beliefs from different religions. It includes elements from ancient Brahman doctrines as well as more modern Buddhist aspects. The celebration itself takes place on the full moon of November each year during which the citizens gather together by the various waterways to set afloat their Floating Leaf Cups (Loy Krathong), while at the same time making wishes, asking atonement, and simply celebrating and acknowledging their various blessings. It is a festival that takes place throughout the entire country of Thailand and among all of the citizens. It is a celebration deeply rooted in the mixture of beliefs from the past and present, but more importantly a social celebration in which all can come together in unity and rejoicing.

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Additional Image 1   Additional Image 2

Fig 2: Villagers at local river placing their Loy Krathong in the water at sunset. This image provided by www.escati.com :http://www.escati.com/loy_krathong_festival.htm Fig 3: Various Loy Krathong for sale by a street vendor during the few days of the festival. This image provided by www.soppong.com: http://www.soppong.com/loykrathong.html

Introduction

The Festival of "Loy Krathong", literally the "Festival of Floating Leaf Cups", has been celebrated in Thailand for over 6,000 years.  It is a Buddhist celebration that takes place a few days before and the day of the full moon in the month of November.  Loy Krathong is a festival representative of many things.  It is a spiritual holiday commemorating Buddha and his teachings, an act of contrition for polluting the rivers and various other natural waterways over the past year, and a time of wishful thinkging and optimism for the year to come (Henderson 1971).  Loy Krathong is primarily an act of rejoicing in which all people take part (Read MacDonald 1992).  The festival is neither a Buddhist nor a Brahman (ancient) ritual but essentially a mixture of the two deeply rooted in national communitas - a sense of bonding within a group or community, more specifically, a bond between the citizens of Thailand.  Loy Krathong is very significant to the Thai people as well as a time of great festivity, brief solemnity, and deep spirituality.

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Context of Thailand

The Loy Krathong Festival in Thailand takes place throughout the entire counrty of Thailand which is located in the center of the southern East-Asian Mainland.  Its vast mainland is bordered by the coutries of Laos and Cambodia to the east, and Myanmar (Burma) to the west.  Thailand also consists of a jutting peninsula that extends south to Malaysia and is scattered with coastal lowlands and small wooded mountain ranges.  The mainland however, consists of higher mountainous regions surrounding a lower central plain.  The climate is mostly tropical with paradoxically less rainfall then all of its neighboring countries.  Thailand is humid and dry for most of the year with a monsoon season lasting from May through about September.  The mountainous regions consist of dense forrest and are almost uninhabited except for the few hill tribes that have remained true to the customs and lifestyle of their ancestor tribesmen.  The central plain however is comprised of fertile soil which is precious to the country whos main agricultural good is rice.

The country of Thailand has gone through many periods of diverse change and has integrated different cultures into its own while still mainting its own individual identity.  The primary religions practiced in Thailand currently are Buddhism and the religion of Islam although the majority of Thai people are Buddhists and only 3.6% are Muslim.  The counrty over the course of history "is accustomed to strong central and paternalisitic rule (Henderson 1971)", and protrays great reverence to the present day monarchy.  The primary occupation of the country is and has been farming, aminly of rice, cassave, rubber, corn, sugar cane, coconuts, and soybeans.  Along with agricultural goods the country benefits from the various aspects fo industry as well.  Thailand is an ever flourishing counry rich in encultured religious and cultural practices from the various groups that have come to inhabit this dynamic country.

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Origins of The Loy Krathong Festival

The Festival of the Floating Leaf Cups, or Loy Krathong, was said to have first been practiced thousands of years ago. There are many different variations of how the celebration came to be. One such version states that an ancient king of Sukhotai, King Rama Khamheng, was on a pilgrimage along the river from temple to temple when one of his wives, Nang Nophames, in order to please her husband and their lord Buddha made a lotus shaped lantern out of paper, placed a candle in it and proceeded to set it afloat along the river bank. The King was so pleased with his wife that he made this act an annual custom to be practiced by his subjects (Henderson 1971). Another more popular version states that Loy Krathong began as an ancient practice in tribute to Me Khonga (the Mother of Water), by placing small coins or other items in the Krathong as tokens to ask for forgiveness for abusing and polluting the water over the past year. Another popular belief states that the festival commemorates the lotus that sprung forth on the river where Buddha was believed to have taken his first steps. An offering of atonement is then made for the sin of the riverboats passing over the footprints of Buddha ( Henderson 1971).

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Performance

The Festival of Loy Krathong is celebrated throughout the entire country of Thailand . It takes place on the few days before and the day of the full moon in early November, late October. The days prior to the celebration are filled with excitement and preparation. Many people fashion there own Loy Krathong out of banana leaves, lotus leaves, or paper, but some choose to buy them from the various street vendors seen scattered throughout the large cities and villages. Houses and Temples in the city are elaborately decorated with streamers and lights, especially in the villages that are not located near some sort of body of water. In the region Sukhotai a beauty contest among the women is held and the winner is entitled to represent the ancient Queen Nophames for the few days of the festival. On the actual day of Loy Krathong three services are held in the Temples around the country to commemorate Buddha. On the eve of the full moon thousands of people gather along the rivers and other various water sources with their Loy Krathong in hand. The Loy Krathong (See figure 4) are usually filled with incense, flowers, coins, and other trinkets. At sunset everyone places their Loy Krathong in the water in atonement for their sins over the past year. They light the candles and make a wish in hopes for a good year to come. If the candle stays lit until the Krathong vanishes out of sight, the wish is said to come true. The night commenced in various dances, celebrations and good food to eat!

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Artifact

This Loy Krathong, or floating leaf cup, is only one of many that will be set afloat during the festival. Loy Krathong come in many shapes and sizes and are usually a cup shaped float made up of plant leaves or paper and contain candles, flowers, incense, and coins.

this image provided by: http://www.soppong.com/loykrathong.htm

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Interpretation

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Prognosis for Loy Krathong

While Loy Krathong has retained its popularity in most of the country after all of these years, it is beginning to diminish in smaller, rural areas of the country that are more focused on other aspects of the festival such as the beauty pageant rather than the ancient traditional aspects that they are somewhat casting off (Read MacDonald 1992). The government of Thailand however has been making a significant effort to bring back the deep rooted traditions to the areas where they are diminishing by encouraging celebrations that include ancient aspects, such as setting the actual Loy Krathong afloat on the water once again (Read MacDonald 1992). Although it is faltering in some areas of the country it is still a very strong celebration in most of the country providing that Thai citizens and visitors alike participate in the joyous celebration that stays with them in their thoughts and spirits until the following year (McLane 2004). Loy Krathong is a celebration that has occurred annually for hundreds of years and is still going strong in the 21 st century.

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Conclusion

Loy Krathong is a beautiful and intriguing celebration that has taken place in the diverse country of Thailand for hundreds upon hundreds of years, uniting its people and uplifting their spirits. It is a festival consisting of a great combination of elements from past and present Thai traditions but more importantly it is a celebration of social community. It provides a great feeling of communitas, communal unity, for the Thai people who come together each year to celebrate the festival shoulder to shoulder. Loy Krathong breaks past the religious aspects of the festival to a deeper level of community that the Thai people experience as a whole. It is a unique holiday that takes place annually producing moods of atonement, worship, celebration, reverence, and thanksgiving binding the citizens of Thailand together on the night of the full moon in November.

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Internet References Cited

  • http://www.soppong.com/loykrathong.html

    This is the website of the Soppong River Inn in Thailand that describes when the celebration will take place as well as certain aspects and photographs. I acquired some of my images from this page.

  • http://www.escati.com/loy_krathong_festival.htm

    This website describes the Loy Krathong Festival to future tourists who will be visiting Thailand. I acquired some of my images from this page.

     

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Peer-Reviewed References Cited

  • Chu , Valentin. Thailand Today: A Visit to Modern Siam . Thomas Y. Cromwell

             Company. New York , 1968.

  • Henderson, John A. Area Handbook for Thailand . U.S. Government Printing Office.

             Washington D.C. , 1971.

  • McLane, Daisann

              2004    In Search of True Celebration. National Geographic Traveler 21(2):34

  • Morely, John David

              1996    A World Apart. Travel Holiday . 179(3): 44

  • Read MacDonald, Margaret. “Circa November: Loi Krathong.” The Folklore of World

              Holidays. 1 st ed. 1992.

  • Thompson, Susan Ellen. Holiday Symbols. Omnigraphics Inc. Michigan , 1998.               
  • Turner, Victor and Edith Turner        1982       Religious Celebrations.      In                  Celebration: Studies in Festivity and Ritual      Victor Tuner ed. pp. 201-219.  Smithsonian Press, Washington.                                                                                                   
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