Loy Krathong: A Visual Journey

Thailand's Loy Krathong Festival; Close-up of krathongs

Loy Krathong (ลอยกระทง), recognized as Thailand’s Festival of Lights, stands as one of the country’s grandest celebrations. Honored by Thais to express reverence to the Goddess of Water (Pra Mae Khongkha) and the Buddha, this festival draws nationwide participation. Across Thailand, people converge near lakes, rivers, and canals to release krathongs on the water, symbolizing their deliverance from negativity.

A krathong is a traditional floating lantern that is crafted with meticulous detail. Its base is made from a piece of a banana tree trunk, providing buoyancy and stability. Over this base, a banana leaf is carefully folded, forming a lotus-flower-inspired shape. The krathong is adorned with an array of vibrant flowers, including orchids, marigolds, and roses, creating a visually stunning arrangement. At the center, three joss sticks and a candle are placed as a spiritual offering.

Traditionally, Thais incorporated a few strands of their hair and nails into the krathong. Coins were also added as a form of merit, to help wash away any sadness or hardships in their lives.

In recent times, the practice of incorporating personal artifacts into a krathong has become less common, especially in urban and modernized areas.

Just before releasing a krathong onto the water, a participant will light the candle and joss sticks, then gently lift the vessel to their forehead. During this quiet moment, they say of prayer of gratitude and make positive wishes for the future. 

According to historians, Loy Krathong originated in the ancient Sukhothai Kingdom around the 13th to 15th centuries, with roots in Brahmanic and animist traditions.

Chronicled in the classical literary work, Tamrap Thao Si Chulalak [ตํารับท้าวศรีจุฬาลักษณ์], the festival began as a result of the creativity of Nang Noppamas, a high-ranking concubine of the King of Sukhothai. During an annual celebration dedicated to offering votive floats to Phra Mae Khongkha (the Thai depiction of the Hindu goddess Ganga, who personifies the sacred Ganges River), Nang Noppamas showcased an elegantly crafted float resembling a lotus flower. This intricately designed float served as the very first iteration of the modern krathong.

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