Loi Kathrong this year in Nondu

November 20, 2002

Yesterday was the annual Thai holiday, Loi Kathrong (Loy Kuh-Trong). Loi means to float and a Karthron is a small decorated floating vessel. The first Kathrong is said to have been made by a Thai Princess hundreds of years ago. It was constructed of a slice of banana trunk as the floating platform and decorated with banana leaves, a candle, and some joss sticks (the candle and joss sticks have significance in Buddhism). The King thought it was so impressive, he took it himself and set it afloat. I think that's how the story goes.

These days, many Kathrongs are still made of slices banana trunks and decorated with banana leaves, and some are made from Styrofoam discs and decorated with colored paper and flowers. All have candles and joss sticks, and some have offerings of a few coins.

The holiday has come to be a sort of Thai valentines day, as young lovers or friends are likely to launch their kathrongs together. Some of the Thai Buddhist Animism beliefs are also mixed up with the holiday -fingernails and hair clippings are often added to the karthong so as to carry away the person's problems. Launching the kathrong is also an opportunity to thank the water spirits for water used during the year for drinking, bathing and watering crops, and this also an opportunity to ask for forgiveness for wasting and polluting water. There's a lot of stuff to this holiday that I still don't understand.

Last night after dinner and well after sunset, several of us walked through Nondu's unlit streets to a pond at the edge of the village, where earlier in the day, one of the villagers had built a small pier from aged wooden planks out over the water for people to stand on when launching their kathrongs.

When we reached the pond, a girl from the village named Lam lit the candles and joss sticks on her kathrong and walked out onto the pier. She held the kathrong over the water -her lips moved as she silently said some kind of prayer, then she placed the kathrong gently onto the water and pushed it away. She stood on the bank, watching her kathrong drift around in the pond among dozens of others, the yellow blaze of the candles and orange glow of the joss sticks reflecting from the pond's dark surface. If her kathrong floated serenely until the candles burned to stubs, then her wishes were likely to come true. Hers did. The launcher of another kahtrong was not so fortunate, as the Styrofoam quickly caught fire and even threatened to catch others afire as it drifted up next to them.

Young boys, who had waded out into the pond to carefully pick 1 baht coins off of floating kathrongs under partial cover of darkness were summoned, almost as a marine fire brigade, to separate the burning kathrong from the rest. As beautiful as the scene was, the kid in me really wanted to see all the kathrongs go up in flames. That would have been exciting.

I've enclosed pictures of kathrongs floating in the pond and one of Lam holding her Kathrong and watching as her sister lights the candles on hers.

This evening at sunset, I rode past the pond on the motorbike. The kathrongs had all been cleaned out of the pond, and all the 1 baht coins presumably salvaged as well. The pond will serve as a watering and cooling station for water buffalo until it is again pressed into service on Loi Kathrong.


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