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Yi Peng Festival 2002 turns Chiang Mai into a magical kingdom

“Noppamas, as beautiful as the ‘Nine Golds Found In Heaven’” - Which is more beautiful, the colorful float or the Miss Noppamas elegantly sitting upon it? For more Loy Krathong impressions

Chiang Mai Governor Pisit Khetphasook beats a sabudchai drum, officially beginning the opening ceremony of the Yi Peng Festival.

Miss Noppamas beauty contest held at Thapae Gate grounds.

Young women dressed in traditional, northern costumes at the festival.

Local school kids perform during the festival in the “Rose of the North”.

Who is more proud, mother or daughter?

Young performers were reminded of the importance of the festival at the Lanna & Hill Tribes Cultural Exhibition at Thapae Gate.

The elders, with their years of experience, perform with traditional instruments like no others.

A young Miss Noppamas hopeful gets a makeup touch-up before going on stage at Thapae Gate.

“Ngard kor” - The area’s strongmen test their strength against each other at the festival.

Buddhist monks check out the bells, flutes and whistles on Walking Street.

Pray to the Goddess of the River, make a wish, then set your krathong free.

Taking a taste of ‘Lao Dong’, the local herbal whisky. Careful now, it’s much stronger than it appears.

Picking out the perfect Krathong to Loy takes some time, as this is the most romantic holiday of the year and everything must be done just right.

Contestants in the “diving under the Ping River competition” get ready to do “battle”.

A contestant in the diving under the Ping River competition comes up for air.

Two beautiful young Miss Noppamas contestants prepare for their night of fame during this year’s Yi Peng/Loy Krathong festivities.

Taking time to get a little shopping in during the festival.

Here, a fire breather spits out flame at the spectacular Sound and Light show which took place opposite Chiangmai Municipality.

This beautifully made float features Buddha sitting lightly on lotus leaves.

Young women perform traditional dance whilst celebrating the festival.

Another beautiful float proceeds along Chiang Mai City streets during the Yi Peng parade.

Dressed in traditional northern costumes, these beautiful young women prepare to set their krathongs free into the river after the parade.

The Association of Private Higher Education Institutions of Thailand’s Miss Noppamas was as beautiful as the flowery float she sat upon.

Young men beat sabudchai drums at the opening ceremony.

Noppamas, as beautiful as the ‘Nine Golds Found In Heaven’

by Rebecca Laroche

It is the full moon of the twelfth month in the ancient Kingdom of Sukhothai. The delicate spires of gilded temples and calm waterways which surround the city like a necklace of jewels glow gently under the caressing moonlight.

A calm has enveloped the small Kingdom and the only sounds are the gentle collision of waves against wood as boats are slowly rowed down the blue canals.

The moon continues to rise, her light glides from house to house. She is a gentle illuminator, slowly lighting each part of the city. When the calm lamplighter has finished her work, movement is perceived. Inside the wooden houses which seem to float on the undulating water, firefly lamps twinkle, golden punctuation to the veil of silver light covering all.

Through the open windows, people are seen moving in the dream atmosphere. Shining silk rustles and molten darknesses of long hair are arranged. Honey colored skin is set off by the glow of red rubies and hair made fragrant by jasmine.

In the center of the dream is a palace of burnished teak with cornices sinuously curving upward, eliminating angle and edge. The whole edifice flows in its stillness. The moon water surrounding the palace is a liquid frame for the pliant building in its embrace.

A tall woman is leaning on a triangular pillow. She is slender with honey colored skin, her oval face and aquiline nose in contrast to the serene expression in her large eyes. All her concentration is fixed on her hands. Simple leaves of a banana tree, the freshest of gardenias, the warm fragrance insinuating itself into the corners of the room and incense of sandalwood brought from the City of Sandalwood, the capitol of the ‘Land of a Million Elephants.’

She tilts her head gently and studies her work as she molds the leaves into the shape of the ‘Jeweled Lotus.’ Satisfied with her work, she lays the once humble, now transfigured leaf-flower to one side. Taking the gardenia from a silver vessel, she raises it and studies its perfection. She is tempted but does not inhale the fragrance of the flower. This is a gift for the great mother Kongkha, the Queen of Waters, and she leaves the full scent of the flower for Her.

The lady lays the flower into the Jeweled Lotus. Studying her work, she is satisfied. Finishing her gift, her delicate hand selects a candle of the smoothest wax and a stick of the finest Persian-rose incense which she places in the center of the transfigured banana leaf, which is now a Lotus. She lives in a world of symbolism and why should this humble leaf not be a lotus if she intends it to be?

Now ready, she unfolds her body and three young maidens appear from corners of the luxurious apartment. They bring her a length of cloth inlaid with jewels. Yellow as young corn, green as rice seedlings and clear as the water from a spring, the jewels seem to be the source of all color as they flash and sparkle in the lamplight which illuminates the room yet does not flood it.

The young women lay the cloth over one shoulder and across her bosom. This has completed her costume of gold woven sarong and upper garment which leaves the honey of her shoulders and delicate arms bare to be caressed by the night air.

Walking slowly and lightly through the corridors, she leaves the inner rooms of the palace and gently descends a staircase leading to the Royal Pier beside the translucent river.

As she walks, every person standing on the hall’s sides, whose sole duty it is to attend her, folds into a graceful bow.

She is the golden jewel of the palace and it is said among those who have never seen her that ‘She is the image of the superb Lotus. She floats on the air like the fragrance of perfume.’

Her name is ‘Noppamas’. This name was given to her at birth by a holy astrologer, who said she would be as beautiful as the ‘nine golds found in heaven.’

Her courtiers are by the river, kneeling on the ground in positions which show their reverence for she, whom they know is a goddess who, transferring part of her essence into human form, has descended to earth.

When lady Noppamas reaches the river bank, the moon is directly above the magic city. Its form is reflected and its light travels through the water, making silver the threads of gentle current.

Kneeling on a frosty silver and green brocade which has been lain at the river bank, she lifts the lotus. Courtiers bow and light the incense and candle which flares once, then glows in the night air.

Raising the living lotus to her smooth forehead, she offers a silent prayer to Konkha, the Mother of Waters.

She places the glowing Lotus gently on the water’s delicate skin.

The water accepts the gift and it glides gently into the silver moonlight currents.

Thus, the lady Noppamas created Loy Krathong.

Loy Krathong and Yi Peng explained

Supatatt Dangkrueng

According to the history written by King Mongkut in 1863, the Loy Krathong festival has its roots in ancient Brahmin culture, going back some 700 years. The spirits of the river were given offerings which were sailed in the river in small boats (krathongs) and in this way the owner of the krathong would gain absolution. This was a Brahmin belief.

The small boats fashioned by the beautiful and talented Nang Noppamas, the daughter of a Brahmin priest and wife of King Phra Ruang, were notable for their construction and beauty. It was this king who then dedicated the krathong to the memory of the Buddha, and decreed that the event would be called Loy Krathong and that it should become an annual celebration to commemorate the skill and beauty of his consort. In this way he lifted it out of Brahmin culture and installed it into the accepted Buddhist way of life. This is the reason that the krathongs now carry three incense sticks representing the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

Loy Krathong is known as the Yi Peng Festival in Northern Thailand because the way the northern people count the months is different from other regions. Yi refers to the second month of the year in the northern calendar and is the same month as November. Peng refers to the night of the full moon, so Yi Peng is the full moon in the second northern calendar month.

In the Yi Peng Festival, people always decorate their krathong with flowers, joss sticks and candles which will then sail away, taking with them bad health, bad luck and unhappiness.

Lanterns are well-known symbols in the Yi Peng Festival too, being used to decorate houses and temples in worship of the guardian spirits. There are four kinds of lantern used in the festival including the hand-held Rabbit Lantern, the hot air Balloon Lantern, the Hanging Lantern for religious worship, and the Spin Lantern installed at the temples. The belief in lanterns is that the lights inside compare with the wisdom the people will get in the next life.