Loy Krathong Celebration [Photograph]
The young boy in the photograph is placing a krathong, or "leaf cup," into the water to celebrate "Loy Krathong," a festival on the night of the full moon in November, the traditional celebration described in the text as a custom of long standing in Thailand (formerly called Siam). As the author describes, it is an agricultural festival related to water, rice cultivation, and the cycles of the seasons, but it probably also has ancient roots in India, and may be related to Buddhism as well. As the author describes, the custom has changed with the country's modernization and urbanization. Nowadays Loy Krathong is more than just a quaint celebration for villagers and families. It is now a tourist event in Bangkok, complete with parades, fireworks, and beauty pageants. Ironically, the placement of thousands of krathongs on the rivers and canals has become a pollution problem in itself, especially after the natural materials like banana leaves and flowers were replaced with white styrofoam bases. As an environmentally more responsible solution, therefore, merchants have begun selling krathongs made of bread in fanciful shapes and colors. The bread breaks up in the water and becomes food for fish and other river creatures. Authorities also warn parents to watch their children, since there have been increased incidents of drownings as the children swim out to find coins floating in the krathongs.
The boy in the photograph is a resident of Father Ray Children's Home, an orphanage at Pattaya, Thailand. The text describing the custom is from the 1968 book by Phya Anuman Rajadhon (1888-1969) Essays on Thai Folklore. The author is a prolific and well regarded literary figure and university professor. Although he did not receive formal academic training in anthropology, his writings have constituted a major source for anthropologists and others on customs from Siam, the traditional name for Thailand.
Photograph: "Putting the krathong out on the water," © Thai Children’s Trust , http://www.thaichildrenstrust.org.uk/blog-item.php?cid=380 (accessed November 24, 2009); text: Phya Anuman Rajadhon, Essays on Thai Folklore, 3rd ed. (Thai Inter - Religious Commission for Development, Sathirakoses Nagapradipa Foundation, 1988), 54–55. Annotated by Susan Douglass.
Primary Source Text
The full moon nights of the eleventh and twelfth lunar months...are the days of "Loi Krathong." Loi is "to float" and Krathong is a "leaf cup" usually made of banana leaf as one often sees in the market. . . Loi Krathong is. . . the floating of lights in a leaf cup. During October and November, all the rivers and canals in the lowlands are flooded and the waters in some places overflow their banks. The rainy season is now in a sense over. It is the time of rejoicing for the weather is fair after the rains. The sky becomes bright and clear, but without its dampness. After the strenuous labour of ploughing and planting rice for the last three months at a stretch from dawn till dusk, for the country-folk the heavy work is now over. The peasants have only to wait a month or more for the time of reaping. During this interval they have nothing much economically to do, but to spend a comparative time of leisure with feasts and festivals. . .
. . . Some of the krathongs are not leaf cups at all, in the ordinary sense of the word. Generally, some of them are in the shape of a bird or a boat. They are more of a toy than a krathong, and have only made their appearance in recent years. These are confined mainly to the town people. The country-folk usually have their own home-made krathong for the occasion, and perhaps there may be one or two progressive folk who make them in the shape of a bird or boat for the merriment of their children. Usually in a krathong, apart from a candle and one or more incense sticks, a small coin, say a one or five satang piece, is also put in. . .
In the evening when the full moon begins to rise on October and November, the people, mostly old women and matrons with their children, carry one or two krathongs to the edge of brimful running water. After the candle and incense sticks in the krathong are lighted, they let it go gently on the surface of the placid waters. A few folk will sometimes raise their hands in worship to the floating krathong. They watch the krathong as they float sluggishly along the water for some time until they float far away or out of sight. The children to while away the time play with water fire-works. . . . The floating krathong usually has a short life. As it floats far away from its starting place, the children further down stream will, in most cases, swim out to snatch the krathong. If it is a beautiful one there may be a scramble for it. They will perhaps ignore the common ones, but will not forget to snatch up the small coin... It is an aesthetic pleasure to see many krathongs with their flickering candle lights bobbing gently up and down, borne along the silent and placid flooded waters under the light of a full moon. . .
As can be gathered from the above description, there is nothing in the nature of a ritual and ceremonial act attached to the Loi Krathong. You simply light the candle and incense sticks and let loose all in the water. That is all you have to do. But the small coin that is put in, and the lighting of the candle and incense sticks betray that there must be a cult of some kind. If you ask the people for an explanation, the elder ones will tell you that the Loi Krathong is an act of remission to the Goddess Me Khongkha, the Mother of Water. Khongkha is the same word as the Indian "Gangs" or "Ganges," but in Siamese, it means water in general. They will further explain that in spite of the Mother's bountiful gift of water to man, he sometimes has polluted her water in various ways, therefore it is only proper to ask her pardon. It is an explanation which, if not plausible, is one which the simple believing folk can explain. . .
How to Cite This Source
"Loy Krathong Celebration [Photograph]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #376, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/primary-sources/376 (accessed October 23, 2014).