Songkran Festival

songkran-1.jpgI have been invited to the Thai Temple this weekend, to celebrate the Songkran Festival. The owner of one of the Thai restaurants here in Seattle, Kwan Jai Thai, asked If I would like to go with her and her friends on Saturday. I gladly accepted and am really looking forward to it. I’ve only just met Kwan this past weekend, when I stopped into eat(for the first time) with some friends visiting in Seattle. I am  amazed just how welcoming Thais have always been to me, especially when they realize that I can speak their language.  In fact, in a matter of minutes, I usually feel as if we have been friends for a lifetime.  So off to celebrate Songkran I go. In case you want to understand a bit about the Holiday, below you will find a brief description. I have had the opportunity to celebrate Songkran several times, in several different parts of Thailand. Nothing I could write here could ever fully describe what it is like, it needs to be experienced. My last Songkran was spent in Saam’s village, a time I will never forget. Eating, Dancing, Eating, Laughing, Eating, Dancing, sleeping, Dancing, eating. Really though, it is very special and still celebrated traditionally within the Villages. I remember Saam’s Grandmother smiling down on me, as I kneeled below her. With her gentle hand upon my head, she told me that she loved me so much, and was so happy that I was part of her family. She removed a bracelet from her wrist, one that she had worn for the past 5 years, and tied it around my wrist. She told that I should never remove it. She was the oldest women in the Village and has since passed away, but I can tell you that I can remember her gentle, loving smile as if she were right in front of me. Although, I have erased the dark red juice that tends to flow from the mouths of most older Thai women(in the village) from the picture. It comes from the “MAK” or Beetle nut that the villagers chew almost continuously. So anyway, Happy Songkran, and perhaps even take this time to remember your loved ones, and the many wonderful things, and memories they have given you.

The Thai New Year (Thai: สงกรานต์ Songkran) is celebrated every year on 13 April to 15 April(3-10 days depending on what part of the country your in). It is also celebrated in Laos (called Songkan in Lao), Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma where it is called Thingyan), and by ethnic Dai in Yunnan, China. Sri Lanka also celebrates a similar festival called Sinhalese and Tamil New Year on the same dates.

songkran06.jpgThe most obvious celebration of Songkran is the throwing of water. People roam the streets with bowls of water, water guns or even a garden hose, and drench each other and passersby. Some of these water guns pack a serious sting, and most of the water is ice cold. This, however, is not the heart of this festival. Not many people, even the new generation of Thais, realize that Thai ancestors started this festival to teach their descendants some important things. This festival teaches people to come home to visit their parents, pay respect to them, and usually bring them a small gift. Mother and Father have given to their children so much, and this is the time that children show them that they recognize their parents’ favor. People also visit their older neighbors to keep the good relationships and to pay respect to the elders around the neighborhood. For these reasons Songkran days are also considered the family days and the elderly days. In my experiences, everyone in the village gathers around and the young pour water into the hands of their elders, asking for forgiveness and paying respect, and in return the elders offer words of good luck.

People go to a wat( Temple in Thai) to pray and give food to monks. They also clean Buddha images in temples with water and gentle Thai perfume (น้ำอบไทย), as it is believed that this will bring good luck and prosperity for the New Year. In many cities, such as Chiang Mai, the Buddha statues from all of the wats in the city are paraded through the streets so that people can wash them as they pass by. People carry handfuls of sand to their temple to in order to recompense the dirt that they carry away on their feet during the rest of the year. The sand is then piled into large, tiered piles and decorated with colorful flags. Later in the day, people also do community services. Going to wat and doing community service teach people to give, the most basic way to happiness in Buddhism.

Some people make New Year resolutions – to refrain from bad behavior and to do more good things. Songkran is a time for cleaning and renewal. Many Thais take this opportunity to give their home a thorough cleaning.

The throwing water part was originated as a way to pay respect to people, by pouring a small amount of lustral water on other people’s hands as a sign of respect. The youths also do it in a more fun way. They splash others with water to relieve the heat, since April is the hottest month in Thailand (temperatures can rise to over 100°F or 40°C on some days). This has changed to water fights and splashing water to people on vehicles, a hallmark of Songkran as tourists know, as Thais assimilate more western cultures and technologies.

 

The use of plaster is also very common having originated in the plaster used by monks to mark blessings

 

The use of plaster is also very common having originated in the plaster used by monks to mark blessings

Nowadays, the emphasis is placed on fun and water-throwing rather than on the festival’s spiritual and religious aspects, which sometimes prompts complaints from traditionalists. In recent years there have been calls to moderate the festival as there are many road accidents and injuries attributed to some extreme behavior – water being thrown in the faces of travelling motorcyclists and elephant riding elders.

Kaw Hai Mi Kwam Suuk na krap Happy Songkran

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~ by Scott on Thursday, April 12, 2007.

3 Responses to “Songkran Festival”

  1. Let me know how your day went. That was interesting!

  2. I really miss that, it was so much fun. My last year in Thailand, I had to go to summer school instead of having fun with friends, 😦 I hate that school.

  3. This year was my first in Thailand and Chiang Mai during Songkran.
    I think it is ok to celebrate in the city, people come and they know what to expect but cannot understand those stupid Songkran revellers who throw water at motorbikes all over the town. Very dangerous and stupid. Here some pictures http://peopleofchiangmai.blogspot.com/2008/04/songran-2008-water-war-in-chiang-mai.html

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