Sunday, November 25, 2007

Rolling Down the River

In November I witnessed a couple of traditional Thai celebrations that drew me to the Chao Phraya River or the River of Kings.

The first week of November was the Royal Barge Procession, a grand parade of exquisitely designed royal boats. It's a ceremony that goes with the presentation of monks' robes at the Wat Arun, led by the King. In the 60-year reign of the current king, the procession has been held only 16 times. I'm quite fortunate that this year they held it to commemorate the King's 80th birthday. The river banks were of course abuzz with people as boats full of oarsmen in full regalia floated by. The rowers had a synchronized way of handling the oars, which they sometimes held up high before dipping them back to the water. Some of the grander barges, with heads of mythical creatures at the front, carry the royalty and one boat is dedicated for the actual robes that would be presented to the monks. Reverberating in the river were chantings played from some of the barges. The whole thing had a very serene quality to it, which I totally adore.

Last night was the Loy Krathong festival, an annual celebration held all over Thailand during the full moon of the 12th month in the Thai calendar. The main ritual involved in this celebration is the release of small floats made of banana leaves that are adorned with flowers, three joss sticks, and a small candle. It's supposedly a symbolic letting go of one's grudges and all else negative, and also to pray a better year ahead. Any body of water is a venue for these rituals but perhaps one of the largest concentrations of people was the Chao Phraya river.

So off to the river I went last night with A, my Singaporean housemate, who is soooo keen on everything Thai he actually released one float for himself as well. On the other hand, I stayed on the side lines, took random pictures, and marveled at the crowd in the pier. Large barges lit with gaudy designs and blasting music floated past us. Fireworks lighting the sky were reflected on the water.

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