Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Loy Krathong: Festival of Floating Lights

Loy Krathong is the annual festival at the end of the rainy season in which Thais offer prayers and thanks to the water goddess for the nourishing rains and to renew their pledge to keep the waters pure. As night falls during the full moon of the 12th lunar month (usually in November), thousands gather at waterways to release "krathongs," traditionally small floating pieces of lotus and banana leaf, often carrying candles, flowers, incense and coins for good luck. The scene is enchanting.

Photo from http://www.geocities.com/tokyo/towers/5265/loykrath.html

As can happen when technology and commercialism run ahead of good sense, the krathongs recently have been largely massed produced instead of being handmade, and with styrofoam as the main flotation material, with banana leaves stapled to the sides. The result is tons of non-biodegradable junk and sharp rusting staples dropping onto river beds and flowing into the Gulf of Thailand where they wash onto beaches for months afterward, turning a traditionally beautiful celebration into one with environmental destruction as an aftermath. Incredibly, Bangkok's former governor once decreed that all krathongs were to be made of foam! He reasoned that they floated best and were easy to clean up later. Since then, it has been difficult to make headway against the styrofoam mindset. But there is hope: Organic krathongs that disintegrate into fish food are becoming popular. Nearly all of the krathongs I saw for sale in our village were hand-made, and none included styrofoam; some were made of bread. Despite this trend, the krathongs still either end up rotting at the bottom of lakes and streams, or bob gently on water until cleaned up by concerned citizens. One can only hope that the river goddess will one day smile again upon the gifts being offered throughout the kingdom on this night.

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