February 10, 2016
Songkran Festival Mayhem on a grand scale.
When: 13, 14 & 15th April Each Year
Where: Through-out Thailand
Facts about Songkran
The name Songkran comes from the Sanskrit ‘sankranta’, meaning ”a move or change in the position of the sun from Aries to Taurus,”. Songkran marks the beginning of the New Year in the traditional Thai Buddhist calendar and is by far Thailand’s most important festival and three day public holiday.
The festival dates were once varied according to the cycle of the full moon but are now fixed and takes place on 13-15 April every year, that said towns, cities and provinces across the Kingdom have their own unique twists, names and dates to the celebrations. See our post Songkran Across Thailand
The differences in each of the Three days
The three days of the festival each have their own name and significance:
- The first day is known as Wan Maha Songkran. It is also National Day for Older Persons.
- The second as Wan Nao. It is also observed as Thailand’s ‘Family Day’ (Thailand in 1991 was one of the first countries in the world to celebrate Family day)
- While the third is known as Wan Thaloeng Sok. This is the actual New Year’s Day
While most visitors to the Kingdom over this period, (and a good number of Thai’s), treat the three days purely as an opportunity to go mad with endless amounts of sometimes freezing ice cold water, there is a traditional and spiritual meaning behind this ancient festival.
Songkran is a time for families to return home and spend time with each other, it is also when Buddha images from private homes and temples, are cleaned with scented water. In cities and towns through-out the Kingdom, Buddha images once cleansed are taken from the temples and paraded through the streets.
Temple activities are the most important Buddhist aspects of the celebrations, with the mornings being a time for listening to sermons and merit making. It is also at this time when people, will take sand to the temples to construct small sand pagodas, decorated with flags and flowers.
This ancient Thai tradition with it’s roots in Buddhism has two distinct meanings firstly as an offering to Buddha and secondly, to replace any sand, that may have been taken out of the temple on the soles of the people, this is because it is seen as sinful to remove ‘anything’ from a temple.
Water also plays a very important part during the traditional festivities, not only in cleaning the images of Buddha but also as a mark of respect and to seek an elders blessings. To gain a blessing, younger people gently pour a small amount of scented water, over the shoulder and down the back of their elders, at the same time offering good wishes and words of blessing for the New Year. The water symbolizes cleansing the past, as well as to refresh everything for the New Year.
The ritual of the tying of strings, is not as common nor is it as old as the water rituals, but is still an important event to both the receiver and the giver. Known as the phuk seow/siao ceremony, it is a traditional friendship-deepening ritual of the Northeast which involves the exchange of symbolic wrist strings. (Also known as the su Khwan ritual).
The ritual involves the tying of strings around the wrists of others and at the same time the person giving the string recites short prayers of blessing. These are to be left on until they fall off of their own accord. See More on why their should be left on and the consequences of removing them, plus more on the ceremony. HERE
The 3 day holiday is also a time for what we in the west may call a Spring Clean, many Thai people take this opportunity to carefully clean their houses and to make New Year resolutions, promising to do good deeds and refrain from doing bad.
From this traditional gentle and humble use of water, Songkran has evolved to a time of utter madness, where the sole object is to drench any and every-body around you, it is a fun filled time when water and booze are flowing in equal measure and where young and old get to enjoy this carnival atmosphere, which goes on from dawn to dusk and for many days. (In Pattaya the mayhem goes on for 10 + days)
White powder…..no not that type of powder……….. is commonly used during the festivities and is actually one of the oldest Songkran traditions. The white paste is a sign of protection and promises to ward off evil.
The talc paste is applied by hand to various parts of the face, neck and torso. While the paste is pretty harmless in the modern Songkran it does get plastered into your eyes, nose, ears, hair and mouth and can sting, so it’s worth washing off, which those around you will do gladly with the aid of a bucket of ice cold water.
A word of warning road accidents are very common during Songkran, the numbers actually killed on the roads over this period is alarming, therefore if you do have to travel don’t use a motor bike.
Songkran has Rules…… No Honest
Where ever you spend your time throwing untold gallons of water at all and sundry, there are a few rules to abide by……… pregnant women and Monks are not considered valid targets, while the local constabulary are fair game.
You should refrain from drenching the interiors of buildings, as with all good things, the day does have to come to an end. Once the sun goes down, its time to hang up the water gun and get ready for the evening…… if you have any strength left that is. Those who do not follow these simple rules can fall foul of the local police and the wrath of others that have had enough for the day.
One thing is for certain you are going to get wet and you are likely to stay that way all day long. Thats not such a bad thing, as April is the hottest month of the year here in Thailand.
If you have a fear of water, crowds or simply do not like joining in with others then, stay away from the Kingdom during this period as nobody can avoid the utter mayhem that is Songkran.
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