Buddhism, Lao Tradition, Thai Tradition

Kathin and Loy Krathong Festivals

I wrote a story of Loi Krathong Festival of the time when I was little growing up in Thailand; this is mainly from my view on things as a kid. There is more to the story than what was told, and I came upon the story whilst reading Buddhism for Young students by Ven. Dr. C. Phangcham, which explains in depth of what the two events are, and both the Lao and Thais celebrate Kathin and Loy Krathong Festivals.

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Photo by Frans.Vanderlee, Royal Kathin Ceremony

As for Kathin, when Buddhism was first established, the number of monks and nuns was relatively small. Originally, monks did not stay at any one particular place. Most of the time, they moved around the country in their mission to spread the teachings of the Buddha for the happiness and welfare of the entire population.

During the rainy season, when the country experienced heavy and frequent rainfalls, things were quite difficult for them and their travels were often impeded or interrupted. In this season, the farmers also cultivated their land and grew crops.

The Buddha allowed his disciples to remain stationed in a specific place temporarily and to stop wandering during this time. It was called VASSA or Rains Retreat. It begins on the 15th day of the Waxing Moon of the 8th Lunar Month and ends on the 1st Lunar Month (approximately July through October.) All Buddhist monks and fully ordained nuns in all parts of the world have to observe the Rains Retreat during this period, thought in certain countries the custom has been modified.

In the Countries of Southeast Asia, where Buddhist monks and nuns live, after three months of Retreat observance, people have a very grand festival of offering food to the monks in various monasteries. At the same time, they prepare special yellow robes, which are offered to the Sangha. This special yellow robe offering is called the Kathin Offering Ceremony. It can be done only during the period from the end of the Retreat to the first day of the Waning Moon of the 12th Lunar Month.

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Photo by Hartfried Schmid, Loy Krathong

Then there is Loy Krathong, at the end of the Kathin Festival season, when the rivers and canals are full of water, the Loy Krathong Festival takes place in all parts of Thailand and Laos on the full moon night of the Twelfth Lunar Month. The people who want to participate in this festival bring their bowls (Krathong) made of leaves (which contain flowers,) candles and incense sticks, as well as some food and coins to the appointed places.

Everyone lights candles and incense sticks in his or her Krathong and then makes a wish and floats the Krathong gently on the surface of the rivers, streams, ponds, or canals. The traditional practice of Loy Krathong was meant to worship and pay homage to the Holy Footprint of the Buddha on the beach of the NAMADA River in India. It was originally a Brahmanical rite whereby Hindus gave thanks to the Mother (goddess) of the Ganges River, which is their source of life and vigor in their country.

It is said that in Thai literature of the Sukhothai period, Nang Nophamas, a virtuous lady in the court of King Ruang, was skilled in the art of making beautiful Krathongs for the occasion. The season of Loy Krathong is important not only for its religious aspect, but also for development of artistic crafts and social bonding. It offers a good opportunity for people from different areas and for boys and girls to meet one another. These festivals have been observed from the Sukhothai period to the present time.

5 thoughts on “Kathin and Loy Krathong Festivals”

  1. I like to know the meaning behind the word “kathin”.

    A monk show us a rectangle piece of wood and said that is a kathin. Sort of make sense to me since the Buddha said monk robe can not be made from a single piece of cloth. In ancient time cloth was expensive. People can only give the monk what little peace they have. Monk would cut this into a shape of a Magadha padi-fields and sew it into a robe. This “kathin” must be a measuring device. Yep. Monk use to do make their own robe. They still do in some temple but today everything is about convenience.

  2. Hi Jon, you’re welcome.

    Hi Dallas, I found this at a Thai web page, and you’re right that Kathin is a measuring device, from the site explains,

    In fact, the word “Thot” means “making an offering to the monk” and the word “Kathin” literary means the “embroidery frame” used in sewing the yellow robes which, in those days, were collected from rags on dead bodies in the jungle since clothes were not available in plenty as nowadays. Buddhist people regard the “Thot Kathin” ceremony as the most significant form of merit-making next to the ordination of their close kin. Thus, once in their lifetime everybody is looking forward to having an opportunity to be the sponsor of a Kathin ceremony as it involves a lot of time, manpower and expense.

    According to one of the monks at our local Wat (temple), in Laos, people would choose which Wat they want to Thot Kathin, the temple then place a Kathin flag as an announcement that the Kathin event is to follow. Assuming if there were no flag in front of Wat, then the villagers would join in to Thot Kathin called Kathin Sa Ma Kee.

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