THIS evening, as the Thai people go to the nearby rivers, khlongs or ponds to float their lotus-shaped vessels made of banana leaves, they will be evoking the spirit of the sacred past, with a blessing of a full moon. Of all the Thai festivals, Loy Krathong is perhaps one of the most ritualistic and colourful events, rich in religious and spiritual expression. A krathong normally comes with a candle, three-joss-sticks and some flowers.
Floating the krathong down the river during the high tide, and after the rainy season is over, not only signifies the attempt to purge evil or bad luck, but also represents an act of worshipping the Goddess of the water. Therein lies the influence of Brahminism. Brahmin rites cannot be separated from the traditional religious practices of the Thais. But ancient Thai beliefs and folklore also hold that there are higher spirits residing everywhere, in the rivers, the trees and the mountains. There are virtually no places on earth that are not, or have not been, occupied by ghosts or by gods.You are supposed to act with reservation and not to speak out loud when you are in a forest because you do not want to disturb the spirits. But in Western thought, a forest is nothing but a wilderness for man to conquer.
For Bt3,800 a ticket at the Shangri-la Hotel, you can observe the delights of fireworks above the Chao Phraya River while having your favourite wine and food. Other Bangkok hotels, with an eye for the dollar, also go at top gear with their Loy Krathong gimmicks. This is an idle, if not rather expensive, way to let the Loy Krathong Day slip by without philosophising or without the trouble fighting the crowds on the riverbanks.Nowhere in Thailand is the Loy Krathong Festival held with more fanfare than at Sukhothai, one of the ancient capitals that lies about 450 kilometres north of Bangkok. Despite its past grandeur, and its Utopian characteristics, Sukhothai’s existence comes to the fore only once a year, at the time of Loy Krathong. For most of the year Sukhothai is far from the Thai consciousness, like the ruins of its past that are forever buried under layers of the earth. Reviving Sukhothai can only be done necessarily by popularising it, with modern lights and sounds against the background of its decaying structures.
But as the young girls, clad in exquisite Thai costumes, prepare to float their krathongs into the pond of the Sukhothai historical park in front of the thousands of visitors, they almost unconsciously might have formed an elusive image of the grandiose Noppamas in their imaginations. What Venus is to beauty for the ancient Greeks, Noppamas is beauty for Thais. And one way of popularising Noppamas is to immortalise her through the Noppamas Beauty Queen Contest, held not only in Sukhothai but elsewhere throughout the country.Legend has it that Noppamas, a beautiful lady of exceptional wit and charm, was the first to have devised the krathong in the 13th century. She served in the court of King Lithai, the grandson of King Ramkhamhaeng The Great. A favourite of the king, Noppamas was said to have raised court mannerisms and practices to a high order. The krathong she floated created a lasting tradition that is still observed today, though with different imageries.
Now Loy Krathong is firmly connected with the worldly desires for material gains. Young Thai couples also find the festival auspicious enough to bind their love together.You will know a Thai girl’s boyfriend by waiting to see with whom she goes to float the krathong with. Little do the young couples realise, however, that once they float the krathong, which is supposed to hold their spirits together, they let go their destiny into the realm of the unknown. While most Thais know Noppamas by associating her with the Loy Krathong Festival, few have bothered to go back to read King Lithai’s Buddhist to gain a proper frame of mind. While his grandfather King Ramkhamhaeng was held as the inventor of the Thai written characters, King Lithai wrote Trai Phum Phra Ruang or ”Sermon on the Three Worlds”.This masterpiece was recognised as a Thai version of the Divine Comedy, ranked in the same class as Dante’s.
King Lithai’s ”Three Worlds” do not represent the earthly, the infernal or the heavenly spheres, but account for the three Buddhist forms of existence of the sentient world. In this religious universe, there is the world of kama-loka, or the world of the five senses; the world of rupa-loka, or the corporeal world of the 16 celestial grades; and the world of arupa-loka, or the incorporeal world where the five senses cease to function.This treatise formed a doctrinal basis for King Lithai to lead his followers to redemption. Ancient Thais were given the vision of the various cosmic realms and their inhabitants, some of whom were confined to eternal damnations if they could not break away from their sins. Floating the krathong with King Lithai — not Noppamas — in your heart will get you closer to Dharmma. A shocking reality is now emerging that in spite of her immortality, Noppamas might not exist at all. Whether she is a historical person or a fictional character is a subject of controversial debate in the academic circle.
But let the academics carry on their debate. Noppamas will continue to exist, for in Thailand histories and legends are mixed so intensely like moulding gold into a pagoda that the facts lie in the realm of introspection. Name…Mr. Setthawut Maneepathompong BA. English Batch 7/1 ID: 5353020414 First Love It is so hard to write you. Why am I doing it this way, not intending ever to send this letter, still with one eye to publication, a grand concept for a book in some sense, and still with one eye, that poets conscience, to a future which becomes increasingly impossible to imagine.It seems the only way I can bear the passion behind the language, the memory, the desire, the only way not to be burnt up by what I feel.
You come over me in waves of memory, especially when I sleep, and I wake up in sweat and trembling, not knowing where I am, not remembering the years that separate us. So often I wanted to write, dear E, now I am this person, I look this way (you wouldn’t like it), I do this, I feel this, lists, details, it was warm or cold on that day when that happened and then my life changed in this way and that–but I cant, I never could, and I cant now.In writing this letter, not to be sent, perhaps I can find the signs that will tell you who I have become. Dearest E, I loved you. Now that love is memory, sometimes haunting, sometimes buried, forgotten, as if dead. I see yr face, yes, I know, as it was, I remember you as I remember the sun, always, burned in my brain; somehow you are part of me, mixed up in me, for all the days of my life. I left you when you were life to me, when to be physically separated from you was sheer and consuming pain, as if a limb had been cut off, amputated.
Leaving you was the hardest, and perhaps the bravest, thing I have ever done. Dearest E, I want to describe in some way the drive to become that impelled me to go to you and to go from you, that has driven me from person to person, place to place, bed to bed, street to street, and which somehow coheres, finds cogency and true expression, when I say, I want to write, or I want to be a writer, or I am a writer. I want to tell you that this drive to become is why I left you and why I never returned as I had promised. I was 19 when I knew you. I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t want to go mad or suffer or die.I was 19.
I wasn’t afraid of anything, or, as I sometimes thought, I was equally afraid of everything so that nothing held a special terror and no action that interested me was too dangerous. I wanted to do everything that I could imagine doing, everything I had ever read about, anything any poet or hero had ever done. I loved Rimbaud. I loved Plato and through him Socrates. I loved Sappho. I loved Dostoevsky, and sweet Shelley, and Homer. I loved cold Valery, and warm D.
H. Lawrence, and tortured Kafka, and raging tender Ginsberg. I didn’t have questions in words in my mind.I had instead these surging impulses that welled up and were spent. I had a hunger to know and to tell and to do everything that could be done. I had an absolute faith in my own will to survive. What I didn’t want to do was to say, look I’m this height, and I went to school here and there, and then that year I did this and that, and then I knew so and so, and then the next one was so and so, and then this situation occurred, and then that one, and the room was red and blue and three by four, and then I was that old and went there and did that and then that and then, naturally, that.
I wanted instead to write books that were fire and ice, wind sweeping the earth. I wanted to write books that, once experienced, could not be forgotten, books that would be cherished as we cherish the most exquisite light we have ever seen. I had contempt for anything less than this perfect book that I could imagine. This book that lived in my imagination was small and perfect and I wanted it to live in person after person, forever. Even in the darkest of human times, it would live. Even in the life of one person who would sustain it and be sustained by it, it would live.I wanted to write a book that would be read even by one person, but always.
For the rest of human time some one person would always know that book, and think it beautiful and fine and true, and then it would be like any tree that grows, or any grain of sand. It would be, and once it was it would never not be. In my secret longings there was another desire as well, not opposite but different, not the same but as strong. There would be a new social order in which people could live in a new way.There would be this new way of living which I could, on the edges of my mind and in the core of my being, imagine and taste. People would be free, and they would live decent lives, and those lives would not be without pain, but they would be without certain kinds of pain. They would be lives untouched by prisons and killings and hunger and bombs.
I imagined that there could be a world without institutionalized murder and systematic cruelty. I imagined that I could write a book that would make such a world possible. So my idea of my book that I would write sometimes took another turn.It had less to do with the one person who would always, no matter how dark the times, somewhere be reading it, and it had more to do with here and now, change, transformation, revolution. I had some idea of standing, as one among many, my book as my contribution, at one point in history and changing its course and flow. I thought, imagine a book that could have stopped the Nazis, imagine a life strong and honest enough to enable one to make such a book. I began to think of writing as a powerful way of changing the human condition instead of as a beautiful way of lamenting it or as an enriching or moving way of describing it.
I had wanted to make Art, which was, I had been led to believe, some impeccable product, inhuman in its process, made by madmen, inhuman in its final form, removed from life, without flaw, perfect, crystal, monumental, pain turned beautiful, sweat turned cold and stopped in time, suffering turned noble and stopped in time. But I also wanted to write a book that could be smelled and felt, that was total human process, the raw edges left as raw as any life, real, with a resolution that took one to a new beginning, not separate from my life or the lives of the multitudes who were living when I was living.I wanted to write a book that would mean something to people, not to dead people past or future, but to living people, something that would not only sustain them but change them, not only enhance the world in the sense of ornament, but transform, redefine, reinvent it. When I knew you I was 19. I did not know many things. How could I? I wanted to make Art, and I had a passion for life, and I wanted to act in the world so that it would be changed, and I knew that those things nourished one another but I did not know how.I did not know that they could be the same, that for me they must be the same, for they all had to live in this one body as one or they could not live at all.
The teachers I had had did not know or tell the truth. They did not care about how artists lived in the world. They seemed to find the lives of artists shoddy and cheap, even as they found works of art marble and pure. They never talked about art as if it had anything at all to do with life. They thought that the texts were there to be analyzed, or memorized, one after another.They thought that art was better than life, better than the artists who made the art and lived their lives. They had no notion of process, how one made something out of the raw impulses of the imagination, how one cried out or mourned or raged in images, in language, in ideas.
So they taught that ideas were fixed, dead, sacred or profane, right or wrong, to be studied but not created, to be learned but not lived. They did not seem to know that the whole of human literature is a conversation through time, each voice speaking to the whole of human living.