Photo Essays | Society | Southeast Asia

Thailand’s Festival of Lights

Celebrating Loi Krathong in Sukhothai in northern Thailand.

By Sugato Mukherjee for
Thailand’s Festival of Lights

Sukhothai Historical Park comes alive on the Loy Krathong night with vibrant shows and hundreds of lanterns, known as the khomloi, dotting the night sky.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
Thailand’s Festival of Lights

With the backdrop of the medieval temples illuminated during the sound and light show, electrifying performances carry the spectators into a bygone era.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
Thailand’s Festival of Lights

A child sporting a festive smile and headgear.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
Thailand’s Festival of Lights

Roadside vendors at the gate of the Sukhothai Historical Park with beautifully decorated krathongs.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
Thailand’s Festival of Lights

The buoyant, decorated baskets called krathongs are released into water as an offering to Pra Mae Khongkha, the goddess of water. They are believed to carry away one’s hatred, anger, and impurities.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
Thailand’s Festival of Lights

Ladies atop palanquins grace the vibrant procession, to the delight of shutterbugs.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
Thailand’s Festival of Lights

Colorful parades featuring traditional attire are an integral part of the festivities in Sukhothai.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
Thailand’s Festival of Lights

As the evening wears on, the parade looks more like the set of a period drama, with ornate coronets and circlets adorning elegantly costumed performers riding atop colorful chariots.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
Thailand’s Festival of Lights

Krathongs are hand made from banana tree trunk and meticulously folded banana leaves, held together with pins, and decorated with flowers.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
Thailand’s Festival of Lights

The feisty festival turns into a feast with flavorful snacks on offer on the wayside.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
Thailand’s Festival of Lights

It is an age-old custom to release paper lanterns with a whisper of a prayer into the sky during Loy Krathong.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
Thailand’s Festival of Lights

The fifth and climactic day of Loy Krathong attracts many foreign travellers immersing themselves in the joi de vivre.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
Thailand’s Festival of Lights

Loy Krathong festival has deep religious overtones as it venerates the Buddha and profoundly reflects Buddhist philosophy and teachings.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee
Thailand’s Festival of Lights

The festivities culminate with an exquisite display of fireworks inside Sukhothai Historical Park.

Credit: Sugato Mukherjee

Loi Krathong is one of Thailand’s biggest annual festivals, held every full moon of the 12th lunar month, which generally falls in November. This year, the festival is taking place from November 19 to 23.

From its origins in Sukhothai in northern Thailand, Loi Krathong spread throughout Thailand and even to Laos and Myanmar. The old town of Sukhothai, which means “Dawn of Happiness” and dates back to the 13th century, hosts the festival in the ancient temple complex, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Colorful parades, long firework displays, and magnificent son-et-lumiere shows recounting the history of Sukhothai amid the ancient monuments and Buddhist shrines make the five-day long festival into a visual extravaganza. Travelers mix with locals to set krathongs (lighted paper floats) into rivers and moats and release khom loi (paper lanterns) into the night sky with a whisper of a prayer.

Sugato Mukherjee is a photographer and writer based in Calcutta and his works have appeared in The Globe and MailAl JazeeraNational Geographic TravelerHarper Collins and Yale University Journal. His coffee table book on Ladakh has been published from Delhi in 2013. Some of his visuals and stories can be found at sugatomukherjee.zenfolio.com