‘Songkran’ – The Thai New Year Festival
‘Songkran’ is the Thai New Year Festival which takes place from 13. to 15. April each year. Thus, it is a very important event in the Buddhist calendar since it marks the beginning of the traditional Thai New Year. The term ‘Songkran‘ (สงกรานต์) stems from the Sanskrit word ‘saṅkrānti‘ which means ‘approaching’ or ‘passing’. It will say that the sun enters the constellation of Aries which is the first sign of the zodiac.
The first association that may come to your mind when thinking of Thai New Year is certainly ‘water wars’ and ‘water guns’. Even though throwing and playing with water is not the only way of celebrating this event, water is used to symbolize the cleaning from all misfortunes of the past year. Thus, the New Year is welcomed with a fresh and clean start. For good fortune, Thai people would traditionally pour a bowl of water on family members, close friends and neighbours.
Thai New Year has also been a subject in traditional Thai arts. For example, in 2013 the prominent Thai style painter Sompop Budtarad presented his exhibition called ‘Nang Songkran 2013’ which included fabulous pictures of delicate and ethereal angels and goddesses playing with water, thus suiting the theme. It depicts ‘Nang Songkran’ who is the Thai goddess of Songkran.
Today, playing with water is very popular on New Year and it has also become a great tourist attraction. Thus, the bowl has evolved into a bucket and all kinds of water guns are used on this occasion. However, this is not all that Thai New Year is about – on the first day, the elderly are honoured and a ritual called ‘Rod Nam Dum Hua’ takes place in which young people pour a small amount of jasmine scented water on the palms of wise elderly people in order to receive their blessings for prosperity.
As a matter of fact, Songkran is also a family celebration because on the second day families get together at dawn and make donations to Buddhist monks. This day is also known as National Family Day. In addition, it is also the time when families make merit and visit temples. There is also the ritual of bathing Buddha statues (พระพุทธรูป) with scented water at home and in temples. What is more, New Year is also used as an occasion of cleaning the house for spring similar to the tradition of the Chinese New Year. During this time of the year, which is the hot summer season in Thailand, people like to eat the refreshing Khao Chae dish. This is a meal of rice soaked in water accompanied my some side dishes and condiments.
The following video demonstrates beautifully the fun and excitement of Thai New Year and the associated traditions.
Summing up, we might say that Songkran seems to be a very ‘refreshing’ festival that is also a family celebration when many Thai rituals come to pass.
Have a happy Thai New Year wherever you are!