The Songkran Festival is to celebrate the Thailand New Year according to the Luna or Solar Calendar. It is celebrated in many other South East Asian Countries including Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Vietnam’s Tai ethnic community, Dai people from China’s Yunnan Province, Sri Lanka, Nepal and India. Songkran is derived from the Sanskrit “Sankranta” meaning “a move or change”. In this case the move of the Sun into Aries. Thailand’s Songkran is celebrated as the traditional Thai New Year from the 13th – 15th April every year. The 13th April is Maha Songkran Day, regarded as the beginning of Thai New Year. On 1st April 1889, Songkran or Thai New Year was set as the Thai New Year by King Chulalongkorn or Rama V. Later in 1940, Thai New Year was changed to 1st January.
Thai New Year Traditions Food Offering & Making Merit (Tum Boon Tak Bart)
Songkran is traditionally celebrated as a Buddhist Festival, a time to visit and pay respects to elders, including family members, friends, neighbours and monks. In the old days, people woke up very early to prepare food as an offering to monks at a nearby Wat (Buddhist monastery). Colourful traditional outfit were popularly worn. After the food offering monks give blessings and pray for the deceased. This is called “Bang-sakul Atthi”.
Everyone sits on the floor at a lower position than the monks with palms facing each other at chest level. This is known as a “Wai” It is customary to buy birds and fish to release back to nature. There are usually merchants selling a small cage of little birds and tanks of fish within a temple area. Such an action is believed to help free one’s life and considered to be good karma, according to Buddha teaching.
Water Pouring is a symbolic way of washing away all of the unfortunate happenings in one’s family’s life. This is simply clean water mixed with scented water called “Nam Ob” when celebrated in this traditional manner. Hence, Songkran is considered a time for cleansing all misfortunes and welcoming a new year with a fresh start. Songkran falls on the hottest time of the year in Thailand. The “scented water” represents coolness and purity. It used for cleansing or bathing Buddha images at household shrines and temples. This is called “Song Nam Pra”, meaning bathing Buddha images. It is also very important to pour scented water over the palms of elders. Elders can be family members, teachers or other respected people. This called “Rod Nam Dam Hua”. The ritual is meant to be a greeting to the elder, asking for forgiveness by using scented water to pour over his or her palms. In return, elders will give their blessing.
Sand-Stupa Building in Northern Thailand, people may carry handfuls of sand to their neighbourhood monastery in order to compensate for the dirt that they have carried away on their feet during the year. The sand is then sculpted into stupa-shaped piles and decorated with colourful flags.
Throwing Water starts on different days in different part of Thailand from 9th to 18th of April. Young people started to throw scented water by gently splashing water at each other to relieve the heat. April is the hottest month in Thailand with temperatures rising over 40°C on some days. Nowadays throwing water is seen as fun rather than recognising the Festival’s spiritual and religious aspects. This sometimes prompts complaints from traditionalists.
The Songkran Festival is also referred to as “Returning Home Day” for people working in big cities to return to their rural home towns. This often creates heavy traffics and road accidents during the holiday period. In recent years there have been calls to moderate the Festival. This is to reduce the many alcohol-related road accidents and injuries attributed to extreme behaviour such as water being thrown in the faces of travelling motorcyclists.
Sonkran Beauty Pageant Contest During an evening, a Miss Songkran Beauty Contest may be held. This is a pageant in which young women display their beauty and unique talents and are judged by the audience. It is held in many downtowns areas throughout Thailand, accompanied by merit-making, a parade and other fun activities.
Songkran Do’s and Don’ts
Do’s • Do give alms and make merit (or just witness the rituals if you are not a Buddhist) by visiting a nearby Buddhist temple. The morning Buddhist ritual consists of food offering, praying and receiving blessings from the monks. It usually starts from 9am and finishes around 12pm. • Do use waterproof bags to protect your valuables. • Do watch your belongings. • Do use public transportation if you are heading to a Songkran ‘hotspot’ as traffic will be paralyzed especially on the 13th or the day they throw water. • Do try wishing the locals a happy new year in Thai – “Suk San Wan Songkran” or “Sawasdee Pee Mai!” • Most important!, smile and have fun!
Don’ts • Do not throw water with ice or dirty water. • Do not drive when you have been drinking.• Do not douse monks/nuns, babies or the elderly.• Do not throw water at motorcyclists as this may cause road accidents.