Loi Krathong takes place on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. In the western calendar this usually falls in November.
Loi literally means ‘to float,’ while krathong refers to the lotus-shaped receptacle which can float on the water. Originally, the krathong was made of banana leaves or the layers of the trunk of a banana tree or a spider lily plant. A krathong contains food, betel nuts, flowers, joss sticks, candle and coins. Modern krathongs are more often made of bread or styrofoam. A bread krathong will disintegrate in a few a days and be eaten by fish and other animals. The traditional banana stalk krathongs are also biodegradable, but styrofoam krathongs are frowned on, since they are polluting and may take years to disappear. Regardless of the composition, a krathong will be decorated with elaborately-folded banana leaves, flowers, candles and incense sticks. A low value coin is sometimes included as an offering to the river spirits. During the night of the full moon, Thais will float their krathong on a river, canal or a pond lake. The festival is believed to originate in an ancient practice of paying respect to the spirit of the waters. Today it is simply a time to have fun.
Governmental offices, corporations and other organizations usually create big decorated rafts. There are also local and officially organised raft competitions, regarding its beauty and craftsmanship. In addition, there are also fireworks and beauty contests during the celebration of the festival.
The origins of Loi Krathong are stated to be in Sukhothai, but recently scholars have argued that it is in fact an invention from the Bangkok period. According to the writings of H.M. King Rama IV in 1863, the originally Brahmanical festival was adapted by Buddhists in Thailand as a ceremony to honour the original Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. Apart from venerating the Buddha with light (the candle on the raft), the act of floating away the candle raft is symbolic of letting go of all one’s grudges, anger and defilements, so that one can start life afresh on a better foot. People will also cut their fingernails and hair and add them to the raft as a symbol of letting go of the bad parts of oneself. Many Thai believe that floating a raft will bring good luck, and they do it to honor and thank the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha (Thai: р╕Юр╕гр╕░р╣Бр╕бр╣Ир╕Д р╕Зр╕Др╕▓).
The beauty contests that accompany the festival are known as “Nopphamat Queen Contests”. According to legend, Nang Nopphamat (Thai: р╕Щр╕▓р╕Зр╕Щр╕Юр╕бр╕� �р╕и; alternatively spelled as “Noppamas” or “Nopamas”) was a consort of the Sukothai king Loethai (14th century) and she had been the first to float a decorated raft. However, this is a new story which was invented during the first part of the 19th century. There is no evidence that a Nang Nopphamat ever existed. Instead it is a matter of fact that a woman of this name was instead the leading character of a novel released during the end of the reign of King Rama III тАУ around 1850. Her character was written as guidance for all women who wished to become civil servants.
Tousands of Khom Loi in Mae Cho, Chiang Mai
Loi Krathong coincides with the Lanna (northern Thai) festival known as “Yi Peng” (Thai: р╕вр╕╡р╣Ир╣Ар╕Ыр╣Зр╕З ). Due to a difference between the old Lanna calendar and the Thai calendar, Yi Peng is held on a full moon of the 2nd month of the Lanna calendar (“Yi” meaning “2nd” and “Peng” meaning “month” in the Lanna language). A multitude of Lanna-style sky lanterns (khom loi (Thai: р╣Вр╕Др╕бр╕ер╕нр╕в), literally: “floating lanterns”) are launched into the air where they resemble large flocks of giant fluorescent jellyfish gracefully floating by through the sky. The festival is meant as a time for tham bun (Thai: р╕Чр╕│р╕Ър╕╕р╕Н), to make merit. People usually make khom loi from a thin fabric, such as rice paper, to which a candle or fuel cell is attached. When the fuel cell is lit, the resulting hot air which is trapped inside the lantern creates enough lift for the khom loi to float up in to the sky. In addition, people will also decorate their houses, gardens and temples with khom fai (Thai: р╣Вр╕Др╕бр╣Др╕Я): intricately shaped paper lanterns which take on different forms. Khom thue (Thai: р╣Вр╕Др╕бр╕Цр╕╖р╕н) are lanterns which are carried around hanging from a stick, khom khwaen (Thai: р╣Вр╕Др╕бр╣Бр╕Вр╕зр╕Щ) are the hanging lanterns, and khom pariwat (Thai: р╣Вр╕Др╕бр╕Ыр╕гр╕┤р╕з р╕гр╕гр╕Х) which are placed at temples and which revolve due to the heat of the candle inside. The most elaborate Yi Peng celebrations can be seen in Chiang Mai, the ancient capital of the former Lanna kingdom, where now both Loi Krathong and Yi Peng are celebrated at the same time resulting in lights floating on the waters, lights hanging from trees/buildings or standing on walls, and lights floating by in the sky. The tradition of Yi Peng was also adopted by certain parts of Laos during the 16th century.