Over the last couple of years the ‘ice-bucket challenge’ has been a fashionable and fun way of being soaked in freezing iced water for the sake of charity. However the rest of the world may not be aware that ritual submission to this form of humiliation on a grand scale and over three consecutive days each year has long been a part of Thai culture. It’s definitely the world’s biggest ice-bucket challenge! If we would take a look at the history, Songkran actually originated from Burma. In fact, there are also other countries practicing this festivity including Vietnam and Laos. The word Songkran was derived from “Sankranti”, which means “to move or to change”. Celebrated on 13th April – 15th April, Songkran 2015 is the longest holiday in Thailand. Songkran is not only about fun and the party atmosphere that will be found on the streets of Thailand no matter where you are.
The period has associated religious activities and important family activities. On the eve of Songkran Day, i.e. on the 12th April, the people clean their house and burn all the refuse. This is a spring Cleaning Day done as a duty in the belief that anything bad belonging to the old year will be unlucky to the owner if left and carried on to the coming New Year.
Early on the first day of Songkran, the 13th April, the people both young and old in their new clothing go to the Wat or monastery belonging to their village or district to offer food to the monks there. A long table is erected in the compound of the Wat where monk’s alms bowls stand in a row on either side of the table. Into the alms bowls the gathering people put boiled rice and into the covers of the alms bowls, food, fruits and sweetmeats. In the afternoon of the same day there is bathing ceremony of the Buddha images and also of the abbot of the Wat. The bathing of images is done as ritualistic ceremony, but it is no other than a New Year’s purification. Younger people will also on this day or the succeeding days go to pay their respect to and ask blessings from their elders and respected persons.
They will pour scented water into the palms of the old people and present them with a towel and other bathing requisites. In the old days it was an actual bathing where the young people helped the old people to take a bath and to change their old clothing and put on the new clothes which the young people presented them as an act of respect to the aged on the occasion of the New Year. Another duty to be done during the Songkran Festival is a religious service called Bangsakun performed in sacred memory to the dead.
On Songkran Day a religious service in sacred memory to the dead may be officiated by a monk or monks at the place where the ashes and the bones have been deposited, or as in some localities the people bring their dead bones to a village Wat in company with others where a joint memorial service is performed. In some parts of the country the guardian spirits of the village and town receive also their annual offerings on Songkran Days. Chiang Mai – Perhaps Thailand’s biggest Sngkran happening!
If you happen to be in Chiang Mai for Songkran you may expect to come across a procession and bathing of Phra Buddha Sihing, local Lanna women riding a Kang Chong (a Northern vehicle) in the street procession, bathing and paying respect to elders by pouring scented water (nam op), building sand pagodas, local art and cultural shows, Lanna’s man and lady beauty contests, water splashing around the moat of Chiang Mai and delicious international foods along Urban Culture Street. So welcome to the 2015 Thai New Year; we hope it’s a good one for you!