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Loi Gratong Festival
Click here for an alternative version of the picture.
Loi Gratong Song
(Thanks to Khun Andro for the Thai script).
On the full moon day of the 12th lunar month
This annual festival falls on the full moon night of the twelfth lunar month, usually in mid November. At this time the moon is brightest and the tides highest.
It really is a magical festival, and I hope the above Java-enhanced photo captures some of the atmosphere of the night. Thais will go out in the evening and float small baskets containing candles, incense and money from the banks of waterways. The waterways can look very beautiful with the multitude of glittering candles dotting their path and the sky is often lit up with fireworks too.
Loi Gratong (ลอยกระทง) literally means 'floating basket'. In former times the gratong กระทง (baskets) were made from banana tree leaves or the layers of the trunk of a banana tree or Spider Lily Plant. Nowadays polystyrene is often used in their construction.
The ceremony is a fairly simple one, with the candles and incense being lit and the gratong pushed away from the water bank. A wish is then made, sometimes with the hands being raised in a traditional Thai Wai, as the gratong floats away with the current.
According to one Thai custom, people must keep their eyes on their gratong until it's drifted out of sight as there is a belief that the longer the candle is burning, the better the next year will be.
Very often, girlfriend will go with boyfriend as a pair to celebrate the festival. It is often said that you will know a Thai's true partner by noting who you see them floating a basket with. If a Thai asks you along to the festival there's a good chance they are interested in you for more than just friendship!
There is an old Thai proverb which says: "When a boy and girl float a gratong together, they will be lovers in this life or the next".
Later on in the evening, there is usually a beauty contest, with Thai ladies dressing up in traditional Thai costume (ชุดไทย) and competing for the title of Nang Nopamart (นางนพมาศ). A chance to experience first hand the beauty of Thai women.
In Chiang Mai province in Northern Thailand, people also celebrate Loi Gratong, but in a unique fashion. As well as floating gratongs on the river, they also launch illuminated Lanna-style hot air balloons into the evening sky. They have their own special name for the occasion: the Northern Lantern Festival and the Yipeng Loi Gratong festival.
There is some uncertainty as to the origin of the Loi Gratong festival. Some people say the festival is in atonement to the goddess of water for having used and sometimes polluted her waters. Others that it is to offer flowers, candles and incense as respect to the Lord Buddha's footprint on the sandy beach at the Narmada river. It is also possible that it is derived from a Hindu festival paying tribute to the God Vishnu who supposedly meditates at the centre of the ocean. Another explanation is that it is a way to pay respect to one's ancestors.
Whatever the true origin of the festival, it is certainly an enchanting one and a pleasurable time is guaranteed for all.
Please send any comments and corrections here.
Page last updated Jan 2021.
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