Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Penang's Loy Krathong Festival plus bonus bloopers

Penang's Loy Krathong festival

 

Last Saturday, Penang's two Thai Buddhist temples celebrated Loy Krathong. Loy means "to float," and krathong are lotus-shaped vessels. It's traditionally held to thank the Water Goddess during the full moon of the twelfth month in the Thai lunar calendar when the water level is high and the climate is cooler. Penang's celebration was a few days early to enable more people to participate. The evening began with a cultural show and praying ceremony led by monks at Wat Chaiya Mangalaram, more commonly referred to as The Reclining Buddha Temple. From there, a procession made its way to the shoreline along Gurney Drive. About a thousand devotees released candle-lit krathongs, setting them adrift and letting the vessels carry away their troubles. In so many ways, it was exactly as I had hoped -- magical, mystical and a visual delight.

Earlier in the week, I took a break from Thanksgiving Day preparations to visit the temple since finding information on-line was impossible. Many colorful krathong were already for sale. I hoped to find something traditional made out of banana leaves, but all they had were ones with styrofoam bases and synthetic petals.

Krathong for sale at the Reclining Buddha Temple


The night of the festival, I heard chanting, drumming and singing as I approached the temple. Entering through the gate, a massive crowd greeted me, lining up to follow the floats to the beach. After gathering my krathong, I fell in step with the procession, marveling at how the street I had just driven down was now completely blocked with people.

Drummers getting ready to lead the procession


Young ladies riding the float from the temple to Gurney Drive.

When we reached Gurney drive, a mere 600 meters away, everyone flowed to the one break in the wall where steps led down to the beach. Hundreds of flickering krathongs were already floating out to sea. I heard one girl cry out excitedly, "They're headed to the mainland, mommy!" We spread out along the shore, wading into the water to release our own krathongs.



On the beach, devotees brought along the unclaimed krathong from the temple. They quickly lit the candles and joss sticks before casting them into the water.

Lighting the krathong


Oh, the variety of vessels. Most of them were fairly simple like mine. But others had towering tiers like a wedding cake or LED lights running around the bottom. Others were so big that two people had to carry them. The most impressive one was a golden, elaborately carved, ancient Siamese boat with a dragon masthead. Instead of merely floating in the water, this one was loaded onto a boat and carried out to sea.

This special krathong went out via boat.


If only this is where the story ends. But it doesn't. The rest of the night seemed like the bloopers reel at the end credits of a serious movie.

Picture yourself solemnly lowering your krathong and releasing it into the water. Now imagine a wave washing it right back between your legs, overturning it and extinguishing the flames. That's what happened to me. It was happening to everybody. The more experienced folks would swish their hands in the water to get their krathong to catch an outgoing wave.

Some of the vessels just looped around towards the storm drain pipes right next to the beach. If releasing the krathong is supposed to cast away your sins and bad fortune, what does it mean if it refuses to leave?


Stranded

The krathong that escaped picturesquely floated out towards the shipping lane before being swept back towards the island, carried by the currents or perhaps the wake of the passing cruise boat. I could see their flickering lights congregating about a kilometer down the shore.

The big, gorgeous krathong that I recently admired ended up bursting into flames shortly after it was released. It was quite a pyrotechnic float.

Before and After

As the crowds began to disperse, one family with an array of krathong arrived and strolled to the water. The photographers gathered around them, wading into the straits to get a good shot. The family was very cooperative, following the instructions of one particularly demanding man. At first they posed, standing with the krathongs held so the candles' glow lit up their faces. Then they were asked to gradually lower them almost into the water. Now freeze! As they stood there half crouched...snap, snap, snap... photographers took a few pictures. Now stand up a little more. Now back down again. They finally released their krathong only to have them immediately washed back into their hands. The photographers seized on this as another chance to take a series of more posed photos. I turned away before they were done. They were good sports about it all.

Posing for the Loy Krathong paparazzi

By that time, my pants were soaked from the waves, and my sports sandals refused to let go of the gravelly sand rubbing up against my feet. It was time to go. I wonder if my krathong escaped being pulled back to shore. Perhaps it will wash up in Singapore where they will find my name on the krathong and fine me for littering.


Related Post:
Thai and Myannar New Years Water Festival



This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox and Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom? Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

30 comments:

  1. Ooh, I've never seen this festival. Thanks for sharing it with us. :-)

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  2. I like this post on the Loy Krathong festival! Beautiful description and even beautifuler (pls excuse this in the spirit of the festival) pictures. It is as if I was there. Thanks. If your krathong refused to float away, that just mean that you will have to live with your wish(es) for another year. Sins need no expiation. They are the necessary obverse of good deeds. Because what are good deeds if there are no sins? Nah, don't worry. Actually, I came to know of your blog from Expat Blog Blog Award, thanks to Duncan (of duncaninkuantan blog) whose blog I have been following for some time and which blog is also in the running for the award. I have read only a few of your post, but in all honesty, I think I have to also for for you too.

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    1. oops, should have been '..a few of your posts..' and '..I have to also vote for you too..'

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    2. It's funny that the wish I put on the krathong is to have more patience. So now I have to wait a whole year for it to happen?

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  3. Sorry, I tried to vote for you, but it seemed that I had got the captcha wrong! I tried several times, even trying different spacing of the alphabets/figure, but still failed! But it was so clear that the captcha was 'mks4m"! So silly of them not to give voters the option of a different captcha.

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  4. This looked like such a wonderful festival to participate. It seems so calming and beautiful but I loved reading your bloopers too. Wow, those Krathongs look so pretty to be sent away. Do bigger and more elaborate Krathongs mean you have more troubles to send away? Thanks for taking us along on yet another great Penang adventure.

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    1. I have no idea if there's any significance to the appearance of the krathongs. The one that caught on fire must have cost over US$100.

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  5. This looks like fun and if I was a kid I think I'd be particularly enchanted by the scene. Looks like you'll just have to go again next year so you can properly launch your Krathong.

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    1. Now I know to catch an outgoing wave.

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  6. This sounds like a lovely festival, despite your returned kratong.

    At first, I thought they were handmade. So how do you choose which one you want -- by color, price or size? You mention that you were looking for ones made from banana leaves. Do you know if they've stopped making them?

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    1. I don't know that there's any significance to the appearance. I just picked one that was cheap and had a pretty flower in the middle. If you look at Edventure Project's blogpost about Loi Krathong in Phuket, Thailand, you'll see some simply gorgeous ones made of natural materials.

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  7. Voted for you in the Expats blog award! I observed Loy Krathong in Sukhothai. I haven't written a post on it yet (that was only on the 28th!). I didn't float a krathong though, although I did release some lanterns in Chiang Mai.

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    1. Thank you so much for voting. I'd love to see the sky lanterns released in Chiang Mai sometime.

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  8. What a wonderful post and congrats on your nomination! I will vote shortly.

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  9. I really love the floating vessels and am continually amazed by all the colors of Asia! Great pics.

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    1. You don't have to look far to find a good picture in Penang.

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  10. I loved learning about the festival through your post. Bummer that you couldn't find a krathong made out of banana leaves, and I was so surprised to see the enormous one burst into flames--I wonder if that happens a lot?

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    1. I just wonder what the people who release the huge krathong thought when it caught on fire. It was floating away, so no one was too worried about anything else going up in flames.

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  11. Wow, what a fun experience! I would love to be apart of it some day.

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    1. I had never heard of Loy Krathong until I moved here. You're already one step ahead.

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  12. Love your shots! All of the little mishaps certainly made the evening more interesting. This is a festival that I really want to experience. I am always teaching in November, so it will have to wait until I retire :)Congratulations on your blog award nomination.

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    1. Thank you. Watching all the mishaps made for a longer, more interesting evening.

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  13. I would love to witness this festival next year. The photos are inviting. Thanks for sharing.

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  14. Michele, this looks like an amazing festival! I love the floats and would love to see this in person some day. I had to laugh a little when you said the floats washed back with the waves. That's something that would happen to me. LOL!

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  15. This is interesting. I wished I can join in one of these Michelle. Superbly interesting how they made those fanciful stuffs to float and with the candles on it, lovely sight. :)

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  16. Huh???? I don't even know there's such an event here in Penang ?????

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  17. Oh dear. If only I could transport myself to Malaysia by tomorrow!

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