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The Thai Lunar Calendar

01 of May 2011

If you have ever been to Thailand, then you probably already know that the calendar here is slightly different. Here we use calendars that show the Buddhist Era. This counts the years from the time when the Lord Buddha passed into Nirvana. This predates the Christian Era by 543 years. So, even though this year is 2008 A.D., in Thailand, calendars show it as 2551 B.E. Although Thailand adopted the solar calendar system in the late 1880?s in order to synchronize with the Western calendar, the new year started on 1st April. This continued like this up until 1941 when it was changed to 1st January.

Thai calendars show both Buddhist Era and Christian Era dates. They also have another set of dates which belongs to the old system which calculates the Thai Lunar Months. This is when it gets complicated. Lunar months do not match the solar calendar. For example, although we are now in August which is the 8th month, it is in fact the 9th lunar month. So, why is important to still show the lunar calendar although it hasn’t been used officially for several hundred years? Well, all Buddhist holidays and festivals are based on the Thai lunar calendar. It tells people which day of the week is “wan phra” or the holy day and which days we should celebrate holidays such as Khao Phansa and Loy Krathong.

One of the questions we often get at ThailandQA.com Forums is when will Loy Krathong be celebrated this year or the next. This is because many of these holidays are not fixed by the solar calendar. Here are the official dates according to the lunar calendar:

Magha Puja Day – full moon day of the third lunar month
Ashana Puja Day – on the fifteenth day of the waxing moon of the eighth lunar month
Khao Phansa – on the first day of the waning moon of the eighth lunar month
Loy Krathong – on the full moon night of the twelfth lunar month
Phra Samut Chedi Temple Fair – on the fifth day of the waning moon in the eleventh lunar month

A complete cycle of the moon, from the new moon (dark moon) to the full moon is 29 and a half days. To make up for this, months alternate between 29 days and 30 days. Like I said before, August this year is the 9th lunar month. It has 15 days of waxing moon (known in Thai as “keun”) and 14 days of waning moon (known in Thai as “raem”). Next month has an equal 15 days of waxing and 15 days of waning. For most of us, today is Thursday 21st August. But, on my lunar calendar, it is “5 raem 5 kam deuan 8?. The first “5? is for the 5th day of the week which is Thursday. Then “raem 5? is the 5th day of the waning moon. Finally, “deuan 8? translates as the 8th month. I should also mention that “kam” refers to the period starting after sunset and not the start of the day.

Let’s take a look at some of the festivals mentioned above. First an easy one. Loy Krathong is celebrated every year on the full moon night of the 12th lunar month. The 12th lunar month is usually in November though it is sometimes earlier. This year, the full moon is on 12th November 2008. In Thai this is “keun 15 kam deuan 12?. For the next example, we will take the start of the Buddhist Rains Retreat which is called Khao Phansa. This starts on the first day of the waning moon of the eighth lunar month. This year, the 8th lunar month started on 3rd July. In Thai, waning is “raem” which is the period after a full moon. This happened on 17th July and so the next day is then “raem 1 kam deuan 8?.

After a while it does become easier. You just need a Thai calendar that marks the lunar months. To find out the dates for the Buddhist festivals and Loy Krathong for next year, it is possible to buy 100 year calendars. However, be warned, they have made mistakes in their calculations before and some years we celebrated major Buddhist holidays on the wrong day!

Buddhist Era (B.E.): The official year in Thailand is counted from the death of the Buddha. The year the Buddha passed away is 0 B.E. To convert from A.D. to B.E., one can generally add 543. For example, the year 2000 A.D. would be 2543 B.E. in Thailand. Although the Buddhist Era dates are widely used, most people are aware of the Gregorian dates. In neighboring India, Sri Lanka, and Burma the date of the Buddha’s passing is counted as 1 B.E., however in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia it is counted as 0 B.E.

Loy Krathong Festival

02 of November 2009

Loy Krathong is held on the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. In the western calendar this usually falls in November.

“Loi” means “to float”. “Krathong” is a raft about a handspan in diameter traditionally made from a section of banana loy_krathong2tree trunk (although modern-day versions use specially made bread ‘flowers’ and may use styrofoam), decorated with elaborately-folded banana leaves, flowers, candles, incense sticks etc. During the night of the full moon, many people will release a small raft like this on a river. Governmental offices, corporations and other organizations also build much bigger and more elaborate rafts, and these are often judged in contests. In addition, fireworks and beauty contests take place during the festival.

The beauty contests that accompany the festival are known as “Noppamas Queen Contests”. According to legend, Noppamas was a consort of the Sukothai king Loethai (14th century) and she was the first to float decorated krathongs. The Loi Krathong festival is also associated with the start of vegetable carving.

loy krathong

The festival probably originated in India as a Hindu festival similar to Deepavali as thanksgiving to the deity of the Ganges with floating lanterns for giving life throughout the year. According to the writings of H.M. King Rama IV in 1863, the originally Brahmanical festival was adapted by Buddhists in Thailand as a ceremony to honour the original Buddha, Siddhartha Guatama. Apart from venerating the Buddha with light (the candle on the raft), the act of floating away the candle raft is symbolic of letting go of all one’s grudges, anger and defilements, so that one can start life afresh on a better foot. People will also cut their fingernails and hair and add them to the raft as a symbol of letting go of the bad parts of oneself. Many Thai believe that floating a krathong will create good luck, and they do it to honor and thank the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha.

loy_krathong
The Thai tradition of Loy Kratong started off in Sukhothai, but is now celebrated throughout Thailand, with the festivities in Chiang Mai and Ayutthaya being particularly well known.

loy-krathong

In Chiang Mai Loi Kratong is also known as “Yi Peng”. Every year thousands of people assemble to float the banana-leaf krathong onto the waterways of the city, honouring the Goddess of Water. A multitude of Lanna-style sky lanterns (khom fai) are also launched into the air where they resemble large flocks of giant fluorescent jellyfish gracefully floating by through the skies. These are believed to help rid the locals of troubles and are also taken to decorate houses and streets.

loykrathong

Loy Krathong Festival

12 of November 2008

Full Moon 12th Lunar month, Loy Krathong (called Yi Peng in the north), the most romantic night on the Thai calendar, this year falls on Wednesday, November 12.

Loy Krathong festival in Bangkok

Loy Krathong festival in Bangkok

Loy Krathong, the “festival of lights” on the full moon of November. This is one of the Kingdom’s oldest and best-preserved traditions. Loy Krathong mean “flotaing Krathongs.” This is an offering to mother of water to ask her to forgive us for polluting the water. Krathong is a little cup shaped like a lotus flower, each with a candle and incense stick inside. The river-based culture that forms the foundation of the traditional Thai way of life, it is widely believed that these are offerings made to Mae Khongkha – Mother of Waters in an act of appeasement. Made of banana leaves, and decorated with incense and candles, thousands of these beautiful boats light up the night.Coins are also placed in the krathong as offerings. The most beautiful sights are at the Bang Sai Arts & Crafts Centre near Ayutthaya, and in the ruins of Sukhothai, the first Thai capital, where the festival is supposed to have originated. Many also believe that by setting adrift the krathong, one symbollically casts away one’s grief, misery and ill-fortunes. Loi Krathong is the time to make wishes for happiness together and success in love.

Loy Krathong in Chiang May

Loy Krathong in Chiang May

The Thai believe their misfortunes float away with the lanterns. Thousands of Yee Peng, candlelit floating lanterns, were released in Thailand on the full moon, 12th Lunar month of November. Loi Krathong customs and traditions reflect local beliefs and cultural evolution and interesting regional variations can be seen. In Tak province, the banana-leaf floats are replaced by coconut shells which are threaded together and launched simultaneously so they appear as long chains of hundreds of glittering lights on the Ping River, hence the origin of its name, “Loi Krathong Sai”. It’s believed that krathongs can carry away sins or bad luck, and represent the time to start the coming new year with hope of being joyful one and all sufferings are floated away with the krathong.

Posted by Evgo