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Festivals of Thailand


From: Thailand: Traits and Treasures, National Identity Board, ©2005 by Office of The Permanent Secretary, The Prime Minister’s Office, ISBN 974-9771-52-4


The ASEAN Dove Competition Festival (Yala Province)

Yala is the southernmost province of Thailand. It is an ancient city with a history of coexisting cultures where Thai, Muslim and Chinese communities live in harmony whilst maintaining their desired cultural identities.

One feature of the province that residents are very proud of is thefact that Yala is home to the popular annual “ASEAN Dove Cooing Contest and Festival”, held in the first weekend of March where Javanese doves (Columbidae) from Thailand and neighbouring countries compete for the most melodious and sweetest cooing sounds. Visitors and dove owners come mainly from Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Brunei. The doves are judged by their melody, loudness of its cooing, and pitch. Separate competitions are held for high-pitch, low-pitch, and medium-pitch dove categories. For a dove that is prized, its cooing must be resonant, rhythmic, and it must be able to sing for a relatively long time. With one of these qualities missing, the chances of winning lessens. Good cooing doves can command a high price in the market; those that have won competitions can fetch several million baht.

In the old days, the raising of Javanese cooing doves was very popular among all strata of society. Two types were popular, one, the “good looking “ dove which may not have great cooing abilities, and the other, the “cooing” dove which may not be beautiful but excels in, as the name implies, singing.

The festival is held in central Yala, in Khwan Mueang Park, which is filled with thick lush green trees and also has a large lake. In addition to the dove competition, local sports are performed such as bull-fighting and cock-fighting, as part of the festivities.

Rap Bua Yon Bua Festival (Traditional Lotus Flower Festival in Samut Prakan Province)

The lotus is a highly respected — or even sacred — plant for Buddhists who use its flower in rites worshipping the Lord Buddha.

In the old days, in the district of Bang Phli in Samut Prakan Province, the lotus plant grew in abundance, especially during the rainy season. At the end of the Buddhist Rain Retreat, (from July to October), people from neighbouring areas of Bang Phli would converge there to collect lotus flowers to perform customary religious ceremonies. Soon, Bang Phli residents began the tradition of picking lotus flowers to share with these visitors so they would not have to pick them themselves. This beautiful act, full of symbolism, is called “Rap Bua” or “Receiving the Lotus” throws much light on the traditional Thai village social values of generosity mixed with religion, done in a typically Thai light-hearted manner.

On the night of the thirteenth day of the waxing moon of the eleventh lunar month (October) or the night before the end of the Buddhist Rain Retreat, Bang Phli residents would start the Rap Bua Festival. They would pick lotus flowers for sharing with visitors from other villages who will arrive for the festivities the next morning, as well as preparing food for them. The night’s preparatory activities are done in a joyful ambiance, with singing and dancing. Then, in the early morning the visitors arrive, paddling their boats along Samrong Canal asking for lotus flowers from Bang Phlee residents on the banks, to bring back to their village temples for use in the Rain Retreat ceremonies. In the old days, the act of giving was done politely, passing flowers from hand to hand, but has evolved to become a more informal act of “tossing” as participants became more familiar with each other as time went by. Hence, the festival has now become known also as “Yon Bua Festival” (Tossing Lotus Flower Festival)

The tossing begins at dawn and ends around eight in the morning, and as the visitors depart, a boat race is held as well just for fun.

One essential part of the festival is a boat procession on that day carrying the image of the revered monk Luang Pho To, along Samrong Canal. People on the banks would decorate their houses with flags, pennants, and set up Buddhist prayer altars. As the boat passes, residents
toss lotus flowers onto the boat and Luang Pho To’s image is invariablycovered with floral tribute up to the neck, as a mark of the community’s reverence for him. An all-night fair with traditional entertainment is also organized on the grounds of Wat Bang Phli Yai Nai.

Sukhothai Loi Krathong And Candle Festival (Sukhothai Province)

The Loi Krathong is a well known festival among Thais and foreigners, held on the full-moon night of the twelfth lunar month or in November. Lotus blossom shaped vessels of various sizes called Krathong can be found floating lazily downstream on the calm waters of rivers and  streams all over the country, with the sounds of joy and reverie of people on the banks enjoying the cool November night air, using the evening to make merriment as well as engage in a ritual spiritually connecting themselves with the Buddha. The krathong are cut from banana tree trunks in the shape of thick round slices, rimmed with leaves. At its most basic, the krathong usually contains a candle, three joss sticks, some flowers and coins. They can be very elaborately done up to a high level of artistic beauty. They give off various degrees of illumination—some dazzling some subdued depending on the number of candles and the way they are arranged on the krathong — as they float downstream to the delight of onlookers on the river banks.

But none of these scenes are more captivating than those found in the Loi Krathong and Candle Festival in Sukhothai Province.

There is evidence that in the days when Sukhothai was the capital of the Thai Kingdom, Loi Krathong was a state ceremony, a way of paying homage to sacred beings. Then, the tradition was modified when Nang Nopphamat, a favourite consort of King Phra Ruang thought up the idea of making the krathong into the shape of a lotus flower as well as other shapes, and use it to float downstream. The King was much attracted to the idea and thus decreed it an annual event. Since then, the floating of krathong has become a distinctive way of paying homage to the Lord Buddha, and the practice was called “Loi Krathong Prathip” or “The Floating of Candlelit Krathong.” So every year all over the country, people from all walks of life would design and decorate krathong with care as befits a semi-religious object.

For Sukhothai, the festival is even grander, as the residents add on a land-based “candlelight festival” to the event. The candle festival proper begins during the daytime, with processions of “Phum Dok Mai” (splendidly-arranged flower tufts on a ceremonial tray), beautifully and
elaborately crafted krathongs, and lovely young maidens from various parts of the province dressed in traditional Thai costumes. The processions wind their way through the city to converge at the hillock in front of the Phra Ruang Palace, or what is called the “Noen Prasat”, a key city landmark, from which they proceed in one long column to King Ramkamhaeng’s Monument at the Sukhothai Historical Park, which has a large pond.

At night a dramatic light and sound presentation is organized, with re-enactments of salient events in Sukothai’s history. This is in addition to the principle event, the loi krathong plus candlelight festivities. The glorious light from candles on land combined with the picturesque scene from the numerous illuminated krathong and their reflections in the pond in the Sukhothai Historical Park setting make for a delightful and breathtaking atmosphere. People would light the candles and joss-sticks, make a wish and launch their krathong on the large pond, the belief being that krathong carry away sins and bad fortunes, and that their wishes will be realized by this meritorious act. Fun and merriment is provided by a contest for the most beautiful Phum Dok Mai and Krathong. In addition, a beauty contest, the “Nopphamat Queen Contest” named after Nang Nopphamat, the legendary figure from the Sukhothai Period mentioned above, adds a fun-filled dimension. In sum, a most memorable and auspicious night for all, in an optimistic ambiance filled with hope for the future.

Phanom Rung Festival (Buri Ram Province)

This Hindu sanctuary, evidence of an old civilization, in Nangrong District was left unattended and in ruins for many centuries until 1944, when the Thai Department of Fine Arts declared it a national protected archaeological site and began careful and detailed renovation using modern techniques, in order to restore it as close to its original state as possible. The restoration effort in effect took eighteen years.

The day which attracts the highest number of visitors is when the sun’s rays pass through the fifteen portals of the sanctuary in the same instant, creating a visually stunning effect, testifying to the superb skills of the temple builders. This date falls on the 15th day of the waxing moon of the fifth lunar month or in April of every year. Buri Ram residents believe that on this morning the sun’s rays are at their purest and most intense, burning evil things to ashes. To provide an opportunity for residents to pay homage to the sanctuary on this propitious date, Buri Ram community leaders would organize a “The Phanom Rung Festival”. Key events include a procession organized according to ancient Khom traditions featuring a parade to honour the God-King, a grand folk musical performance, a Buri Ram products fair, traditional dances to pay homage to the gods, and a light and sound performance again dedicated to the temple gods.

Taken from: Thailand: Traits and Treasures. The National Identity Board, Royal Thai Government 2005.


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