Songkran

Buddhist New Year in Thailand
Start: 13 April 2023
End: 15 April 2023

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Wat Ratchabophit, Bangkok, Thailand

GPS: 13.7495628, 100.4993822

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Songkran is the traditional Thai new year, which is celebrated over several days as a nationwide holiday in Thailand. Many people in Thailand wear colourful clothing and traditional Thai dress when celebrating this festival. Songkran, which means “to move” or “to change”, refers to the movement of the sun from Pisces into Aries in the Brahmin astrological zodiac. A large part of the traditional aspect of this Buddhist festival is connecting with family, respecting elders and getting into spiritual alignment for the year ahead. Water is a central feature of this spiritual realignment, which is used to bathe the body and torso of the Buddha image at local temples and sprinkle family members and strangers alike.

Rooted in ancient Buddhist tradition, the role of water in symbolically removing accumulated negative energy, and ritually cleansing in preparation for the year ahead, is given prominence. This tradition, which coincides with the hottest month of the year, evolved over time into the equivalent of a nationwide water fight. Celebrants trickle water on one another, playfully splash buckets of water on each other, or stand with a water hose and spray anyone who passes by. High powered water pistols and street parties also became popular among young Thai citizens and foreigners visiting for the water-soaked experience. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the practice of dousing strangers with water has been discouraged , with an encouragement of a return towards traditional celebrations among Thai authorities.

This shift of focus allows visitors to Thailand to experience the authentic cultural roots of the Songkran festival. To do this, a visit to a rural town or village will allow visitors to immerse themselves in this ancient tradition as it has been practised for generations. Indeed, many young professionals and families in Thailand travel home from the bigger cities to visit and be with older relatives in the villages and towns to celebrate Songkran. Songkran is likely to begin with tidying homes across Thailand, with entering into the Thai new year with an untidy home being seen as a source of bad luck. Public spaces such as temples and schools are also cleaned. Song Nam Phra, the ritual cleansing of local temples’ sacred Buddha images with scented water, is also done during the time of Songkran. Sprinkling water onto Buddhist monks at local temples is also considered to be an auspicious act in order to receive blessings for the new year.

Honouring ancestors is another component of Songkran, which can be done by offering alms to Buddhist monks in dedication to deceased loved ones. On the second day, known as Wan Nao, people prepare food for their Buddhist monks and prepare scented water with which to respect their elders, parents and older members of their family. Washing of parents’ feet is a ceremony performed at this time, after which parents return blessings with garlands of flowers. The third day, known as Wan Payawan, is a day when food and other gifts are brought for the monks of each community’s local buddhist temples, who then pray for the community members. Clay or chalk is also smeared on the cheeks of Songkran celebrants by family members, community members and strangers along with the blessing “Sa-wat-dee pi mai” or “Happy new year”. This originated from the use of chalk by monks to demarcate blessings, and shares some similarity, but in a milder form, to the Hindu celebration of Holi.

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  • Interacting with complete strangers sprinkling or dousing you with water or smearing your cheeks with chalk
  • Being part of a celebration that a whole nation is celebrating
  • The colourful dress and traditional dress that is pervasive during Songkran
  • The festive atmosphere and the friendliness on the streets
  • Seeing the many different ways that Songkran is celebrated
  • The riotous water fights that the festival has become known for globally have been temporarily banned due to Covid-19, but the traditional aspects of the festival remain, which are of great importance to the people of Thailand.
  • Releasing an animal into the wild during Songkran, such as a bird or a fish, is seen as bringing good luck by virtue of giving a creature of nature freedom.
  • Before Covid-19, Khao San Road and Silom Road in Bangkok were the focus of epic water fights.
  • Water poured onto the body of Buddha images in local temples during Songkran is scented with a traditional perfume called Nam Ob.
  • The fun family offerings of sand stupas, decorated and left in the temple grounds, are known as Chedi Sai.
  • Traditional games, parades and performances are organised during the festivities.
  • Taking one’s shirt off in public in Thailand is considered indecent.
  • When pouring scented water onto temples’ sacred Bhudda images, the water is poured onto the torso and body, not the head.
  • Many businesses close down entirely during this festival, including shops and restaurants.
  • Be careful of road accidents due to drunk driving during this period.

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