Thai Festival: Loy Khratong

Loy Krathong is held on the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. In the western calendar this usually falls in November.

"Loi" means "to float". "Krathong" is a small raft traditionally made from a section of banana tree trunk, decorated with elaborately-folded banana leaves, flowers, candles, incense sticks etc. During the night of the full moon, many people will release a small raft like this on a river. Governmental offices, corporations and other organizations also build much bigger and more elaborate rafts, and these are often judged in contests. In addition, fireworks and beauty contests take place during the festival.

The festival probably originated in India as a Hindu festival similar to Deepavali as thanksgiving to the deity of the Ganges with floating lanterns for giving life throughout the year.

According to the writings of H.M. King Rama IV in 1863, the originally Brahmanical festival was adapted by Buddhists in Thailand as a ceremony to honour the original Buddha, Siddhartha Guatama. 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. Many Thai believe that floating a krathong will create good luck, and they do it to honor and thank the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha.

The beauty contests that accompany the festival are known as "Noppamas Queen Contests". According to legend, Noppamas was a consort of the Sukothai king Loethai (14th century) and she was the first to float decorated krathongs.
The Thai tradition of Loy Kratong started off in Sukhothai, but is now celebrated throughout Thailand, with the festivities in Chiang Mai and Ayutthaya being particularly well known.

In Chiang Mai Loi Kratong is also known as "Yi Peng". Every year thousands of people assemble to float the banana-leaf krathong onto the waterways of the city, honouring the Goddess of Water. A multitude of Lanna-style hot-air lanterns (khom fai) are also launched into the air where they resemble large flocks of giant fluorescent jellyfish gracefully floating by through the skies. These are believed to help rid the locals of troubles and are also taken to decorate houses and streets.

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Protests in Thailand

Soldiers deployed onto the streets of Bangkok, the armed forces called on to help keep the peace after a day of rioting in which police failed to disperse anti-government protesters. Skirmishes continued into the night. The demonstrators refusing to back down, continuing to confront riot police.

We're late in the night and police are continuing to release tear gas into the crowd. They're trying to push the protesters back to the government house where they have been since late August. All day there have been these ongoing skirmishes between police and the protesters and it doesn't seem to be over yet.

Earlier in the evening police trapped protesters and our cameraman in the ?????? of streets surrounding parliament. A car bomb exploded nearby killing one person and injuring bystanders. It is unclear who detonated the device. The crackdown began just after 6 am, an early morning raid that caught the protesters by surprise. They'd stormed Thailand's parliament compound overnight--their second target in as many months, hours before the new prime minister was to set out his governments policies, the protesters tried to blockage the entrances to the parliament building. At around 6:20 local time, riot police moved in. Witnesses say dozens of tear gas canisters were fired into the crowd. For some, the results were devastating. This man lost part of his leg in the attack. Another man with his back torn apart was seen limping from the scene. Others injured in the chaos were carried away. Many of the protesters were seen trying to wash the stinging residue from their eyes.

"We will fight until we win, for sure. Not only me, everybody. You can ask everybody."

Senators who boycotted the parliamentary session came out to greet the protesters. They say the government has blood on its hands.

"All these people, they are here for one thing: because they love this country. They love his majesty the king. So they have their own reason, you know."

Police took about 20 minutes to break open the blockade. And Hees began arriving for the parliamentary session about an hour after the attack. The policy speech went ahead as planned. Tuesday's clash surprised many. The Thai authorities had taken a "softly, softly" approach in dealing with the protesters who stormed the government house in late August. They accused the government of being a puppet of the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawat who was ousted in a military coup. The new prime minister is Thaksin's brother in law who appears to be taking a harder line. Any hopes of a reconciliation between these two sides now seems unlikely. The protest leaders are condemning the attacks. Riot police and the army remain on standby. It seems nothing is resolved here in Thailand.

Salin Downs, Al Jazeera, Bangkok

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This week's interview: Tsunami 2004

Todd talks with Tarta about the devastation she witnessed in Phuket, Thailand after the tsunami in 2004 here and here.

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