Loy Krathong at Sukothai
The historical Sukothai is located about 30kms west of the small modern city of Sukothai in central Thailand. The premium Thai city between 1239 - 1378, it is now a UNESCO cultural heritage park.
I arrive in time for the last two days of the Loy Krathrong festival. Having never attended this festival it seemed appropriate to see it here, where it first occurred over 600 years ago. Legend says that the first krathong was placed by Noppomo, consort to King Loethai. The King was so touched by the gesture he decreed that henceforth it should be celebrated every year. The festival is now celebrated all over Thailand on the first full full moon of the 12th month of the traditional Thai lunar calender. This is in November.
A krathong is a small raft traditionally made from banana tree bark and folded banana leaves. It is decorated with flowers, candles and incense.
Originally shaped in the form of a lotus leaf, they are now fabricated in a wide range of shapes including circular, boats and stars. Some have an included coin for the spirits.
The krathong is placed on water, the candle lit and it is then allowed to float away. Performing this ritual is said to bring good luck and honour the Godess of the Water, Phra Mae Khlongkha. When launching, a wish is sometimes made, if the candle stays alight until it is out of sight, the wish is granted.
Early the following day spirits, in the form of small boys, collect used krathongs and remove the coins.
All around me preparations for the nights activity of the Loy Krathong are proceeding. Stalls selling and food and drinks are setup; krathongs are being laid out along the walk paths; laser lights are being checked; people are claiming ground by setting out mats.
Dusk, the moon is rising, remaining spaces are now being rapidly filled; young ladies dress in traditional costumes to perform traditional dances to tunes beated out by traditional orchestras; Loy Krathong festivities are underway.
Hundreds of krathongs are launched, but alas many wishes will not be granted, as the flame flickers out long before the krathong is out of sight. In addition to the hundreds of privately launched krathongs each province submits a large elaborate gas fired krathong for judging. These are set out around the periphery of a large ornamental pond.
Another method of removing the evil spirits from one's life is by launching of khom fai (sky lanterns). These are cylindrical bags, sealed at one end with a wire frame and a central wick at the other. The wick is lit, hot air fills the bag causing it to rise. As it rises it appears to morph; a translucent bag with a burning flame; higher, a large orange light; still higher, a bright orange star; until finally a dim orange star which continues to dim until out of sight, floating away the launcher's bad spirits.
Complementing traditional dances, a laser light show depicts a romanticized history of the Sukothai Kingdom, its birth in throwing off the Khmer yoke; it's conquest of the central plans and the establishment of the Kingdom of Peace and Happiness; its fall to the younger, more powerful southern city of Ayutthaya.
Laser show is finished. During the final fireworks, the throng ambles out of the park. Few westerners are seen. So under a still full moon, the Sukothai Loy Krathong ends for another year.