Loy Krathong is an annual festival of light celebrated enthusiastically all over Thailand, but the celebrations are especially spectacular in the city of Chiang Mai. The festival is usually scheduled for the night of the full moon of the 12th month of the Thai Lunar calendar. In Chiang Mai, the event is also known as Yi Peng or Yee Peng and is earmarked for the second month of the traditional calendar of the Lanna people of northern Thailand.
In fact, the name of the festival itself indicates its date of celebration, for Yi Peng translates from Lanna language as Second month. “Yi” is the Lanna word for second, while “Peng” translates as month. The dates of the festival vary every year, but the event typically comes around during the middle or end of November.
Lanterns feature prominently during the celebration of Loy Krathong, an event, which originated as a festival associated with Brahmanism. Loy Krathong was celebrated throughout Thailand. The original celebration of the festival featured the veneration of to the holy trinity of Hindu gods Shiva (Phra I-Suan), Vishnu (Phra Narai) and Brahma (Phra Phrom). Lanterns were an integral part of the festival at that time as well. Royal residences as well as homes of wealthy featured paper lanterns with burning candles as decorations for the festival.
At the end of the 19th century, during the reign of King Mongkut (Rama IV), the Buddhist population of Thailand adopted the celebration of Loy Krathong as well. They associated the event with the honoring of Buddha.
Loy Krathong has from its inception been associated with honoring Buddha in the Lanna Kingdom. Lanterns along with events featuring the sermons of Vessantara Jataka have featured prominently during the celebrations of the festival.
This holy sermon, Vessantara Jataka recounts the tale of one of Buddha’s previous incarnations, when he took the form of a Prince Vessantara. Prince Vessantara, the tale reveals gave away all his material possessions during the course of his life. Such was his selflessness that he even parted with his wife and children and thus, displayed the virtue of perfect charity. This incredible tale is known as the Great Birth Sermon, and it assumes much importance until today, in many Southeast Asian countries including Cambodia and Myanmar.
Lanterns for Loy Krathong
Four different kinds of lanterns feature in the celebrations for Loy Krathong/Yi Peng in Chiang Mai. Khom Theua or the carrying lantern is a lantern fashioned of paper and has a bamboo column within, to protect its burning light. Devotees carry this lantern during the Loy Krathong parade, and they also use this type of lantern to decorate city’s temples.
Another prominent paper lantern is the Khom Kwaen. This lantern takes the form of objects associated with Buddhism. It thus has forms such as a star, the basket, the wheel and the alms bowl. Devotees adorn the gate`s of the temples with these Khom Kwaen lanterns some of which, also feature the signs of the zodiac and other shapes.
However, the most popular and prominent lantern of the Loy Krathong festival is Khom Loy or Khom Fai. This cylindrical shaped lantern is made of paper and features a cotton lamp with a wick soaked in kerosene. Often firecrackers are attached to the bottom of the lantern. As the devotees ignite the wicks, the firecrackers set off, and the heat from the lamp then causes the lantern to rise and it begins to float upwards and beyond.
The people of Chiang Mai launch thousands of these lanterns during the festival. They believe that bad luck and misfortune leaves a person as a lantern rises to the sky. If a lantern disappears from view before the light goes out, it is even more auspicious. Most folk also say a prayer before they set off their lanterns or inscribe a wish and attach it to their lantern before they release it.
In addition to the lanterns, the people of Chiang Mai also use an offering called Krathong during this festival. A Krathong is a small offering fashioned out of leaves and wood of the banana tree. The Krathong resembles a raft and usually features flowers, a candle and an incense stick. Often people place a lock of hair (associated with Buddha’s top knot) and/or a coin in the Krathong. On the night of the festival, worshippers light their Krathongs as they place them in Chiang Mai's Ping River. The release of the Krathong into the river symbolizes the same concept as the lanterns, for it signifies the elimination of bad luck and hardship from a person’s life.
The release of numerous illuminated Krathong and lanterns takes place almost simultaneously and presents a truly spectacular sight. The night over Chiang Mai reverberates with the sounds of firecrackers and prayer offerings during this time. Young boys also dive into the waters of the river to collect the coins from the many-illuminated Krathong floating in the river.
Lanterns begin to appear all over Chiang Mai on days leading up to the festival. There are also small lantern launches in certain parts of the city before the actual day of the festival. The biggest release of lanterns during the Loy Krathong/Yi Peng festival takes place on the Lanna Dhutanka grounds behind the city’s Mae Jo University. Huge crowds of locals and tourists flock to the site to get a glimpse of the ritual. However, as it is a religious festival, visiting tourists need to dress appropriately and cover any exposed limbs.
Nowadays, however, the celebrations of the Loy Krathong festival have gone beyond simply lanterns and lantern launches. The revelries include a whole host of events like festive processions, lantern decorating and other contests, lantern displays and more. The festivities also include a beauty pageant (an event commonly associated with the modern-day celebrations of festivals in Thailand). Night bazaars, cultural song and dance events also feature on the festival program as all of Chiang Mai gets together to celebrate.
The celebrations for Loy Krathong/Yi Peng have just ended for 2014, but dates for the 2015 event have already been announced. The celebrations for Loy Krathong will take place in Chiang Mai and the rest of Thailand from Tuesday, 24th November 2015 until Thursday 26th November 2015.
Ample notice for you, to make your travel plans to visit Thailand for the wonderful Thai festival of light- Loy Krathong.