(A girl dressed as the founder of Loy Krathong, the legendary Nang Noppamas. A legend she really is. Noppamas was in fact, the leading character in a nineteenth-century novel)
Beyond a doubt, Loy Krathong is Thailand’s most beautiful festival. Thais and foreigners alike are taught that Loy Krathong originated something like 700 years ago in the northern province of Sukhothai. We are also meant to believe that the person who discovered this tradition was a King’s consort named Nang Noppamas; that she was the first person to make a kratong and float it.
Unfortunately, however, there is no evidence whatsoever that Loy Krathong dates back to the era of King Ramkhamhaeng and Sukhothai. That is because it really is all legend, one supposedly completely made up at the end of the nineteenth century by the Department of Fine Arts.
What proof there is however and there is a lot of it, is that the Loy Kratong festival originated from the Loy Khom festival. According to the evidence available, Loy Khom (Float the lantern) surfaced in the mid-eighteenth century during the Ayutthaya era and was probably based on a very similar festival which had already begun in Nakhorn Thom in Cambodia. The first person to seriously write about the Loy Khom festival was, in fact, a foreigner named ‘Lu Lubber’ or something like that (unsure of the transliteration from Thai to English). In contrast to the legend taught, he wrote that the Loy Khom festival was held mid-way through Buddhist Lent and not on the 12th Full month (unlike Loy Krathong in its present form). And unlike the Loy Krathong festival of now, Loy Khom was celebrated for several days to several weeks. What is the same though, is that the Loy Khom festival was a thanksgiving to the Goddess of Water and possibly the Buddha.
A water khom certainly looked different to a present day krathong. They came in various sizes from very small to huge and in them were only lanterns, there were no candles or incense sticks – those were recent innovations!
Now, one of the nicest Loy Krathong festivities is the Nang Noppamas beauty contest which is to pay homage to the one and only Mrs. Noppamas, the founder of Loy Krathong, a king’s consort. Again, there is absolutely no historical evidence that Noppamas even existed, and she didn’t. Mrs. Noppamas was instead the leading character of a novel released during the nearing of the reign of King Rama III – around 1850. Her character was written as guidance for all women who wished to become civil servants. Prince Damrong Rajanubhap, Thailand’s most influential historian, petitioned the government several times during his exile in Penang to revert Loy Krathong back to its original Loy Khom format and to also educate the people about the truth of Noppamas. His advice was simply ignored.
Several Thai language books concerning the truth history of Loy Krathong have been released over the past few decades, but the Ministry of Education have disallowed them in their Thai history classes. Recently, a few academics have attempted again to encourage the truth to be taught and have continually asked the Ministry of Culture to promote the real facts. They have adamantly asked that Thai school history books be rewritten and explain that Noppamas really was just a legend. The Ministry of Culture has failed to even listen to their claims and turned a blind eye. But, as one academic put it if the truth was taught, then Thailand as a country would….. ‘lose face’.
Steve's views: I never did believe the legend about Sukhothai and Noppamas anyway and so I'm not too sure whether these academics should make such a big rant about the truths to be taught. What I found ironic, was also all the fuss Prince Damrong made, as it was he himself who invented the story of King Naresuan's great battle taking place at Don Chedi in Suphanburi. He also wrote and published a lot of other rubbish. All in all though, it does however prove yet again, how much of the Thai history taught at schools is just clearly made-up.