Floral Float / Loy Krathong Chiang Mai, Thailand
Full moon in November
In Lanna (Northern Thailand) the festival is called Yi Peng (the full moon of the 2nd lunar month) while in central Thailand it is the Pen Duen Sib Song (the full moon of the 12th lunar month).
Chiang Mai, the most popular destination for the festival has more to offer than a place for tourist ravelers , if one cares to know, and by knowing will appreciate the local custom even more.
The festival is religious in nature.
The people of Chiang Mai starts the festive occasion with going to a temple to listen to monks preaching or telling the story of the previous life of the present Lord Buddha. It is the story of Vessantara, the most charitable king of all kings.
The story has 13 sections and each is designated for the people born on a certain year in the 12 year cycle. The one born on a particular year will light the local candle to the number of verses contained in that section.
Monks in each temple will take turns in “preaching”. The activities will go on for 3 -5 consecutive days. These days the preaching is shortened to 2 days, beginning very early on the day prior to the full moon day and end on the evening of the full moon day.
This occasion also allows friends and neighbors to have time to meditate, and to socialize; young ones learn local traditions, practices and mores that are interwoven in the story as told by the monks.
Vessantara Jataka is about a prince and his family being in exile to live a hermit life in the deep jungle. Hence the jungle like theme of decoration can be seen everywhere.
So if one has time, please drops in to light candles in any temple and see the Ubosot, the main temple, becomes alive with lights, banana trees and temple goers. Some temples even create a winding pathway for people to walk in and discover the Buddha’s image at the center. So if you are lost in this world, take refuge in the Lord’s Dhamma, you will find the peace of mind.
These days of fast food and rush life, many thing that used to be made in a social gathering are commercialized and thus local value and customs are lost.
In the old days, and at some educational sights, one still can participate in candle making. Candle in the northern tradition is not a candle stick but a small container of wax, very similar to ready made candle in aluminum container one finds in stores, except that the container is made of clay. Simple, nature friendly, yet beautiful.
During the day, in between temple going, my friend and her family go to ancestors’ shrines and light candles to pay respect. In the evening they put lit candles everywhere, from fence and front gate, to well, water tank, big trees, doors, windows, ovens, bathrooms. This is a gesture of gratitude things useful and have been in use throughout the year.
The house with gleaming light looks more beautiful than usual especially in the moonlight with deep blue sky.
Floating the flowers
Down the river, we light a candle and 3 incense sticks and float our flower floats down the river. With the float we pay respect to the Triple Gems: the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha ( the order which is monks in congregation not an individual one). Some says that we pay respect to the river, to the water goddess, etc. Whatever it is, it is a gesture of respect.
Lighting the sky
In former days, the making of big paper “lamp” to be floated onto the sky was done together by temple goers. Each one brought a few sheets of bright color papers from their houses, made glue, and together created hugh colorful shades to be floated during day time.
Balloons at night need not be colorful but the beauty, then and now, is in the light as the balloons float up high in the sky.
It is said that the balloons are sent to worship the Buddha’s relic kept by gods and goddesses in high heaven.
These days, not many people learn to make this kind of balloon any more, as there is a more convenient way of obtaining one, or several, easily. Along the way, the social process that goes along with balloon making is lost.
Night of reveling
With Chiang Mai as major destination, please be aware also of what merry making is causing to each individual as well as the river, the sky and the earth we intend to respect.
The night of reveling, be careful of the fire crackers. Injuries caused by fire crackers burden hospitals in Chiang Mai; some are fatal. Medical personnels have no time for merry making on Loy Krathong night; they must standby for accidents.
Planes have to stop flying for safety reason, because floating balloons interfere with take off and landing.
Paper balloons in abundance had caused fire that burned down housed and warehouses. This activity is originated in a rural environment, and now being popularized in a densely populated city! The fun of one group of people can cause lost of property to others without anyone to be accountable for, not even city officials and promoters of activities.
The day after
Yes, the next day when tourists retire to bed, sleep late, or return home, city workers see garbages instead of beautiful floral floats and beautiful candle floats of last night. The cleaning process starts.
If there is any respect for the river, and the trees, and the earth, the merit goes to these workers, not to the ones that pollute.
When things are done in moderation, mother nature can take care of us and of herself. When things are done in excess, she certainly needs assistance.
So exercise in moderation is suggested.