Thai New Year - Songkran
The Songkran festival is celebrated in Thailand as the traditional New Year's Day from 13 to 15 April. The date of the festival was originally set by astrological calculation, but it is now fixed. Songkran falls in the hottest time of the year in Thailand, at the end of the dry season.
Songkran originally was celebrated only in the north of Thailand, and was probably brought there by the Burmese, who adapted it from the Indian Holi festival. It spread across Thailand in the mid-20th century and is now observed even in the far south. However, the most famous Songkran celebrations are still in the northern city of Chiang Mai, where it continues for six days and sometimes even longer.
The most obvious celebration of Songkran is the throwing of water. Thais roam the streets with containers of water or water guns or post themselves at the side of roads with a garden hose and drench each other and passersby. This, however, was not always the main activity of this festival. Songkran was traditionally a time to visit and pay respects to elders, including family members, friends and neighbors.
Besides the throwing of water, people celebrating Songkran may also go to a wat or temple to pray and give food to monks. They may also cleanse Buddha images from household shrines as well as Buddha images at monasteries by gently pouring water mixed with a Thai fragrance over them. It is believed that doing this will bring good luck and prosperity for the New Year. In many cities, such as Chiang Mai, the Buddha images from all of the city's important monasteries are paraded through the streets so that people can throw water at them, ritually 'bathing' the images, as they pass by on ornately decorated floats.
The throwing of water originated as a way to pay respect to people, by capturing the water after it had been poured over the Buddhas for cleansing and then using this blessed water to give good fortune to elders and family by gently pouring it on the shoulder. Among young people the holiday evolved to include dousing strangers with water to relieve the heat, since April is the hottest month in Thailand and this has further evolved into water fights and splashing water over people riding in vehicles.
The water is meant as a symbol of washing all of the bad away and is sometimes filled with fragrant herbs when celebrated in the traditional manner.
While a 3-day holiday, the Thai New Year or Songkran has 4 distinct days:
Wan Sungkharn Lohng is celebrated on the 12th April 12 and is considered the day before the New Year. People tend to clean their house thoroughly and do general preparations for the New Year celebrations. Thais dress up in new attires to welcome the New Year in a fresh manner.
Wan Nao is the 13th of April and a game called Saba (like skittles) is played by many people. People also build pyramids of sand called chedis on the riverbanks and put on a tiny colored flags on it. This is an example of a very popular traditional activity of people of Thailand, and the concept is thought to have developed from people taking clean sand to neighbouring villages and temples to replace the dirt carried away on the soles of their feet during the course of the year.
Wan Payawan is celebrated on the 14th April and all statues of Buddha are washed with scented water. People visit monasteries and shrines to offer prayers and gifts like rice, fruits, sweets and food for the monks. Following this is the custom to release birds from the cages or fish into rivers. This is believed to bring good luck for the members of the family.
Wan Parg – bpee occurs on 15th April and is when people pay homage to their ancestors and elders.
In addition to the cleansing of the Buddha images a traditional Songkran involves the sprinkling of water by younger people on the older people as a tribute of respect and for blessings. This is much different from the water tossing we see on the streets and is a genuinely sincere event whereby scented water is poured over the shoulder and gently down the back of the person. While pouring the water in this manner, people utter good wishes and words of blessing for the New Year. The water symbolizes cleansing, refreshment of the spirit and all good things associated with life.
Songkran is a very popular time to Thailand - Thailand Hotels and Guesthouses can fill up quickly. It is highly recommended to book in advance.