Songkran, the Thai New Year celebrated from April 13 to April 16, is the most important, the best known and the gayest of Thailand's festivals.
Songkran, the Thai New Year celebrated from April 13 to April 16, is the most important, the best known and the gayest of Thailand's festivals. To the Thai people, this festival is one of water throwing and although it has religious significance, it usually turns into great fun. Everyone gets soaking wet and since it is the hottest season of the year, the custom is quite refreshing.
Songkran is not only observed in Thailand but also in Burma, Laos and Cambodia.
The word Songkran is from the Sanskrit, meaning the beginning of a new solar year. The Thai calendar used to switch to a new year on April 13 but the date was changed to January 1 to bring the country in line with the rest of the world.
In some ways, Songkran resembles the Christian Easter with it's feasts and processions of people wearing new clothes. Young and old dress in new attire and visit their Wat where food is offered to the monks. Music is often played on the streets as well as at the Wats.
On the eve of Songkran, housewives give their homes a thorough cleaning. Worn-out clothing or household effects and rubbish are burned - it is a spring cleaning day, supported by the religious belief that anything old and useless must be thrown away or it will bring bad luck to the owner.
During the afternoon of the 13th, Buddha images are bathed as part of the ceremony. Young people pour scented water into the hands of elders and parents as a mark of respect while seeking the blessing of the older people. In ancient days, old people were actually given a bath and clothed in new apparel presented by the young folks as a sign of respect.
Another unique Songkran custom is the releasing of caged birds and live fish, caught throughout the country and sold / purchased in the markets for this occasion. It is believed that great merit is gained through this kind act. In Paklat (Phra Pradaeng) south of Bangkok, girls in gay dresses form a procession and carry fish bowls to the rivers where the fish are released.
The custom to set free some fish goes back to the days when the central plains of Thailand were flooded during the rainy season. After the water subsided, pools were left and as the pools gradually dried up, baby fish were trapped. Farmers in those days caught small fish and kept them at home until Songkran Day when they released them into the canals, thereby gaining merit as well as preserving one of the main items of their diet.
The whole country celebrates Songkran but the festivities are nowhere as exalted as in Chiang Mai.
If a visitor happens to be in a village, out on a country road or up in Chiang Mai, he can well expect a drenching. All people, particularly the younger ones, throw water on one another during the 3-day holiday.
In Chiang Mai, there are processions of groups of women and girls, and bands play at many places. A Queen of the Water Festival is chosen amidst much noise and gaiety. The Ping River, which runs through the city, is crowded with people wading in the water and scooping it up with pans and buckets. The visitor who wants to be in Chiang Mai for the event must plan his/her trip well in advance as hotels are usually fully booked.
Different parts of the kingdom have their own unique games, songs and dances to celebrate Songkran. Farmers in many parts of the country have ample time for the celebration as they cannot do much work in the fields until the rain comes.
According to an old belief Nagas (mythical serpents) brought rain by spouting water from the seas. The more they spouted, the more rain there would be. So, the Songkran custom of throwing water can be interpreted as an attempt in rain-making.