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The History of Loy Krathong Festival and Yi Peng Lantern Festival

By CindyUpdated Aug. 24, 2023

The two Thai lantern festivals, Loy Krathong and Yi Peng, normally happen on the same day which is why they are frequently grouped together. However, they are actually two different festivals with different histories and legends.

Find out more about the history and legends of Loy Krathong and Yi Peng and why they are such special events to witness in person.

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The History of Loy Krathong Festival

Loy Krathong Festival originated from an old Brahmin festival that paid respects to the water spirits. Thai people float krathongs to give thanks to the water goddess for the fortune of having water while others will ask for forgiveness for using too much or contaminating it.

Loy Krathong originated in the ancient Sukhothai Kingdom which dates back 800 years. The King, Ram Kampaeng, was a devoted Buddhist and believed that at the end of the Thai year his people should pay tribute to the water goddess, Phra Mae Khong Ka for all they had been given. So he chose a night with a full moon after the monsoons, meaning the rivers and canals would be at their fullest, to worship.

release krathongs onto rivers on Loy krathong festival

A popular legend says that one of the King's consorts, Nang Noppamas, was the one who created the first Krathong. Noppamas was the daughter of a Brahmin priest and adapted an existing Brahmin tradition to make the krathong from banana leaves. The king was so mesmerized by its beauty that he proclaimed that every year on this day Thai citizens should celebrate Loy Krathong in the same way.

Other legends, rooted in ancient Hindu rituals, claim that the festival was created to honor the magical Nagas. Nagas are serpent-like mythical creatures that are said to live in bodies of water. They are often thought of as protectors of Buddha, but when angered they can spread disease and misfortune. To keep the Nagas happy and in hope of receiving merit in return, devout Hindus will send offerings down lakes and rivers.

Yi Peng Lantern Festival History

Yi Peng Lantern Festival is an ancient festival adapted from Brahmin origins and is closely associated with the Thai Lanna culture. With customs rooted in Buddhism and Hinduism, the Lanna culture dates back to the 13th century.

Each year the Yee Peng lantern festival is celebrated throughout the ancient Lanna Kingdom (Northern Thailand) to mark the end of the monsoon season and the beginning of the cool season. It is also one of the ancient traditions that centers around paying respect to Buddha in order to gain merit.

The legend of Yi Peng is based on several palm leaf texts that are read during the festival every year. These texts tell the story of how a candle-carrying bird flew around Buddha. Buddha then explained that by being paid respect with the light from the candle the bird had gained merit and would be blessed with great joy in the next life.

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