If you are not a local, Yee Peng Festival can be many things to many people who have been blessed to witness and experience it.
As a Buddhist, I grew up in Burma until I was 13, which means I have some recollection of Buddhist celebrations and festivities. Like Thailand, many festivals and celebrations in Burma are based on Buddhism as well . When I first heard about Loy Krathong (Loy “to float” Krathong “lotus shaped boat made with banana stalk and leaves”), I was fascinated as I originally thought this was similar to “Thadinkyut” (festival of lights in Burma). I later learned that “Tazaungdaine” is the similar Burmese festival to Yee Peng, which is a practice and a celebration – a different version of Loy Kathong – by the locals in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Yee Peng, often written as “Yi Peng,” literally means the full moon night of the 12th lunar month.
My curiosity was piqued when I learned about the one respected Monk’s effort to maintain the Yee Peng celebration as it was hundreds of years ago at the Buddhist Meditation Center, Tudong Ka Sathaan Lanna. Over two decades ago, Pra Poobej Chana Pinyo gathered a group of meditation followers to celebrate Yee Peng Loy Krathong. He also included many students as a way to help them maintain their spiritual and religious roots. That this holiday ought to be more than loud fun, fireworks and drinking alcohol. Spiritual and religious roots? This is one of the many reasons why we sold everything we owned so we can live in Thailand.
According to legend years ago, Naang Noppamart, beautiful daughter of a wise Brahim in Sukhothi, was married to Sukhothai’s King. She introduced her faith and practice of sending a krathong down the river which carries with it troubles and sins, but also carries hopes and prayers for better fortune. The Buddhist King was fascinated by his wife’s practice of honoring the river that he made Loy Krathong into an official ceremony. In Chiang Mai, the ceremony is known as Yee Peng, which includes the act of sending krathongs and launching tubular like lanterns into the night sky.
After experiencing the mesmerizing Yee Peng Floating Lantern Ceremony in Homage to Lord Buddha (near Mae Jo University in Sansi District of Chiang Mai) I felt it was important to write about it as part of our family travel memoirs, especially for M.
Yee Peng was a reminder of how important it was for us to experience significant events, moments, sights, sounds, people and places around the world as a family unit. Yee Peng reminded me of our trip to other Holy places, like the Vatican. Yee Peng also helped me relive my Buddhist pilgrimage I took with my mother to India and Nepal. Yee Peng made me recall the very reason why we are living in Thailand, particularly Chiang Mai.
It was without a doubt, a spectacular night and a highlight of our lives in Chiang Mai so far. But beyond the spectacular displays of fireworks and hundreds and thousands of white rice paper Lanna style lanterns (Kom Loi) floating softly up into the deep night sky as we pay homage to Buddha, for me, it was a spiritual and religious moment that took my breath away and moved me to tears.
As I sat quietly during the Buddhist ceremony, listening to the calming voice of the venerable monk, I realized that once again I was sitting on Holy ground with my little family by my side. Throughout the entire night I found myself being tearful. I cried not because I am sad. I cried because I felt so fortunate and blessed. I cried because I have been fortunate to visit majority of the significant sites of Buddha’s life in India and Nepal back in 2008. I cried because it was in 2008 that I discovered the beauty of Chiang Mai, Thailand. And here we are in Chiang Mai, enjoying the privilege to visit as many Holy grounds as we wish at any time. That is truly a blessing perhaps only a Buddhist could understand. To that I say, I’m one heck of a lucky Buddhist.
Though I did not understand the sermon in Thai, I recognized many of the prayers. I felt connected and in harmony with my surroundings as if I was back home in a Burmese temple, or a temple in India for that matter. I chanted along with the crowd. Silently, I said a prayer. Silently, I prayed for the ability to continue many more good deeds for those who can never repay us. I prayed that soon, we will be united with my entire extended family here in Chiang Mai, then in Burma. I prayed that we continue to have many opportunities to learn, explore, accept, share and care along our journey. I prayed that we will have the opportunity to go on our own pilgrimage to India as a family. Not once, but possibly twice to the same Holy land? And so, relentlessly, I continue to count my blessings!
The calming voice of the venerable monk, the chanting, the crowd, the sight of the half- moon semicircular stage lit with monks surrounding the Buddha statue, the smell of bamboo and fresh-cut grass, the sight of the lanterns floating up into the deep dark sky, being surrounded by friends and family, were all part of my spiritual moment that will forever be imprinted in my brain.
I often looked over at J & M sitting close to me through out the evening. I was silently reassured that many more adventures, significant like this one, await us in the near future.
NOTE: In previous years, to avoid conflict, Yee Peng Festival at this meditation center has celebrated one week before the full moon. However, for various reasons, it was moved to the week of full moon this year. Thus, there were some confusions about when exactly the 2010 festival event was to take place. Unsure if the temple will return to the week before in 2011. We will just have to wait and see.