|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?
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.
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.