Sunday, November 25, 2007

Witnessing the Loi Krathong

Loi Krathong is being celebrated here in Thailand. The 12th full moon for this falls on the 24th day of November. We were not aware that many people were gathered at the waterways. The waterways are actually open canals that are being used for irrigation. That is I thought those waterways are for. But tonight seeing so many people by the open canals, it made me think that perhaps those water ways are really intended for the celebration of Loi Krathong.

But prior to this, within the week several parades were held in the streets of the mooban (villages). I don’t know exactly how the town was divided, but the most logical explanation is that each zone is being divided by the location of the Wats (Buddhist temples). Many people participated in the parade along with their pick-up trucks, each carrying a beautiful money tree. Yes, a tree which leaves are made of real money. The money collected from the parade will be given to the temple.

The parade was fun-filled and those who participated were evidently enjoying themselves. I have never seen so much drunk people in a parade in my whole life, both men and women. This community event concluded in the Loy Krathong festival which happened on the weekend this year.

Although not an official public holiday, Loi Kratong is one of the most popular and romantic of Thailand's traditional festivals. Loi literally translates to "float", while Krathong is the Thai word for a sort of tray made out of banana leaves. Loy Kratong is celebrated by floating elaborate krathongs decorated with flowers, candles and incense on just about any waterway in the kingdom. Fireworks and releasing of light lanterns that rise up to the sky were included in the festival. As the rivers glistens with floating candles, lights could also be seen on the evening’s dark horizon. What a magnificent sight to behold!

The romance is provided by a legend about the origins of the festival in 13th century Sukhothai. According to the story, Nang Nopamas, a royal consort of King Ramkhamhaeng (the founder of Sukhothai), made the first krathong as an offering to Mae Nam. She set it afloat on one of the canals of the palace so that it would drift past her lover the king. The king was delighted with the creation, and thus was the origins of the saying that if two lovers set a krathong adrift and it stays afloat until out of sight, their love will last forever.

The celebration however is full ambiguity. Is this a festival for the goddess of rivers, ancestor veneration or homage to Buddha? My guess is that this is originally an animist practice that eventually became part of Buddhism. Nonetheless, the Thais believe that apart from venerating the Buddha with light (the candle on the raft), the act of floating away the candle raft is symbolic of letting go of all one's grudges, anger and defilements, so that one can start life afresh on a better foot. People will also cut their fingernails and hair and add them to the raft as a symbol of letting go of the bad parts of oneself (from Wikipedia).

No, we neither floated a krathong nor released a floating light lantern. We did not join the celebration. We witnessed the festival as we were driving home from a birthday celebration of one of our children from the Grace Home.

We witnessed how devoted the Thais to the customs and practices of their ancestors but they do not exactly know what is its significance in their lives. We can almost feel their longing for forgiveness and restored relationships. They sincerely seek for a relationship with their creator God by which their religion does not .

Although we are at present ministering with the poor Myanmar migrants, we have a great burden to share the gospel to the more affluent Thais. With all our heart, we believe that God has placed us, so strategically, so we can reach all peoples who live this region.

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