Loy Kratong

According to one of the most popular legends, years ago a Buddhist King fell
in love with a woman called Nopamas. As beautiful as she was clever, Nopamas was
collectively praised for her extraordinary nature. She and the King enjoyed the
greatest happiness together, and eventually were married. After a blissful
wedding, preparation for a Buddhist celebration began. Although Nopamas had
married a King who was a practicing Buddhist, she still remained true to her
Brahmin faith, worshipping her own idols and spirits according to the precepts
her family had taught her in early childhood.
It was a Brahmin custom that, at the end of the year, during the full moon of
the twelfth lunar month, all people should prepare suitable offerings to present
to the river spirits in order to obtain pardon and the absolution of sins.
Towards the end of the year, as people were beginning the celebration, Nopamas
secretly arranged to perform her own religious rites, and for this purpose she
made a small boat-like structure, called a 'krathong', made from banana leaves.
She stitched strips of banana leaves together and pinned them around the edge of
the little boat for ornamentation. She then took fresh fruits and deftly carved
them into flowers, piling them up in a conical arrangement in the center.
Finishing her arabesque, she adorned it with scented incense sticks.
The start of a twinkling festival

On the day of the celebration the King discovered Nopamas' handiwork and,
though she feared he would be angered by her secretive practice, he was
impressed by the remarkable beauty of her craft. He lit the incense and floated
the tiny boat down the river. Marveling at the twinkling spectacle, he declared
that the nation's people should perform a similar ritual, praising the spirits
of the water annually. Thus, the festival of Loy Krathong floated to the surface
of Thai culture.
A nationwide celebration that has become an excuse for a big-time party over
the years, the tradition of Loy Krathong remains strongest in agricultural
societies where the river provides life and sustenance. Similar to methods
described in the story of Nopamas, 'krathongs' are delicately fashioned from
banana leaves in the shape of lotus flowers and garnished with candles and
incense. After nightfall, crowds of people flock to the riversides toting their
preciously crafted 'krathongs' and releasing them into the water.
Not necessarily a modern ritual of a religious nature, the gesture of
releasing a 'krathong' inspires luck and forgiveness for misdeeds. This is the
time to seek redemption for sinful over-indulgence. The ritual holds
significance for young lovers as well as the guilt-ridden. Myths suggest that a
couple should release their 'krathongs' together. If the 'krathongs' manage to
float together, the relationship will follow accordingly. However, if the
'krathongs' split, the couple should anticipate a similar fate. A rather
romantic notion, though some relationships certainly don't need floating lotus
flowers to predict their demise.
Loy Krathong today
In addition to the floating of these tiny vessels, Loy Krathong incorporates
a variety of activities into the festivities. Roads to the piers are bustling
with vendors as crowds of people make their way to the banks of the river.
Parades, fireworks, music, dancing, theatrical performances and beauty pageants all
contribute to the merriment of the atmosphere. Continuing until the wee hours of
the morning, Loy Krathong welcomes the spirit of good fun.
After a full night of partying, even the most die-hard participant
reluctantly must make his way home. What remains of Loy Krathong is the
dreadful task of cleaning the rivers and canals. Millions of krathongs must be
retrieved, presenting a rather overwhelming environmental issue. In recent
years, however, the city administration of Bangkok has begun to discourage the
use of Styrofoam in creating the krathongs, as Styrofoam is non-biodegradable
and hazardous to the fish population. Concerned celebrators have responded by
baking bread in the shape of krathongs to escape the danger of fish consumption.
Additionally, teachers have begun instilling environmental significance into the
myth, emphasizing the importance of paying thanks to 'Mother River'.