Songkran Festival

The most amazingly wild, wet and sanook of all Thailand’s festivals is Songkran, which starts on April 13 every year and lasts for three wild, wet, and extremely fun days.

To the Thai people, this festival is one of religious significance, but it is always one of intense water-throwing as well. Everyone gets soaking wet during Songkran, and since it takes place at the height of the hot season, the custom is quite refreshing.

The word “Songkran” comes from Sanskrit, and means the beginning of the new Solar Year.

In some ways, Songkran resembles the Christian holiday of Easter. Young and old dress in new clothing and visit their temple, where they offer food to the monks. It is a day of celebration as well as a feast day for the monks, and music is often played as a backdrop to the festivities.

Resting between showers

On the eve of Songkran Day, housewives give their homes a thorough cleaning. Worn-out clothing, household effects and rubbish are burned in the religious belief that anything old or 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 times, old people were actually given a bath and clothed in new apparel presented by the young people as a mark of respect for the New Year.

Another unique Songkran custom is the releasing of live birds and fish purchased in markets. It is believed that great merit is gained through this act.

In Paklat, Phra Padaeng, near Bangkok, every year beautiful women in traditional dress form a procession and carry fish bowls to the river, where the fish are released. Naturally, young men also enjoy this annual excursion.

[ Public bus getting inundated with water ]
If you ride a public bus in Bangkok during Songkran, you’ve got basically no chance of getting away from the eager Songkran splashers.

The releasing of fish and birds is a custom which goes back to the days when the Central Plains would flood during the rainy season, and then recede shortly thereafter.

Afterwards, baby fish would be left trapped in the puddles, and farmers would gather them and then release them into canals on Songkran Day, thereby gaining merit while also maintaining their food supply.

The whole country usually celebrates Songkran, but the merriest festivities always take place in Chiang Mai. As a result, Thailand’s second largest city is always crowded with revellers, and visitors wishing to experience the fun of a Chiang Mai Songkran must make arrangements months in advance.

The festivities in Chiang Mai begin in earnest on the first day of the festival with an enormous and spectacular parade of monks, images of the Buddha on floats, musicians and dressed-up townspeople. The procession runs from the Nawarat Bridge, past the Thaepae Gate and on to the Wat Prasingh temple. The celebrations go on for longer here than anywhere else; while water-throwing is only allowed in the city for the official duration of the festivities, it carries on in the outlying rural areas for some time (so don’t be surprised if you get a sudden soaking – even if you’re travelling by train or motorbike). People also tie lucky strings round one anothers’ wrists as a new year blessing, and older people can be seen daubing others with a white paste which both wards off evil and washes easily out of your clothes afterwards (a fine product by any standards). It’s a charming and very friendly time of year; foreigners are welcomed (although you should try to observe the decorum of religious ceremonies); and the festivities are utterly spectacular: an incredibly memorable week, and a far better introduction to Thai culture than munching banana pancakes on the Khao San road

It’s our Songkran! Culture vultures get ready for a heady smorgasbord of traditional events and party animals get ready for the biggest party of the year. Offices, banks and the government shuts down between 13th-15th April for the traditional Thai New Year, so get your shopping and business done or you will be stuck in soaking traffic unable to move for three days. Otherwise, put on your mor hom, grab a bucket of water and have fun!
There will be religious ceremonies in villages around the north of Thailand, with most of them concentrated around a temple. The municipality and Tourism Authority of Thailand organise all sorts of fascinating and fun events, and on virtually every street corner, pub and restaurant you will find some kind of celebration.

Songkran Schedule Organised by the Municipality
Some activities to be held during the Songkran festival are listed below.
1st, 8th and 11th -15th April – Celebration of Chiang Mai city’s 711th Anniversary at the Walking Street on Tha Pae and Ratchadamneon Rd.

1st -3rd April – Buddha Image Bathing ceremony at Wat Chiang Man.

7th -9th April – Bathing ceremony for the main chedi at Wat Chiang Yuen.

8th April – Contest of Royal Lanna drums at the area in front of the Three Kings Monument from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.

11th-12th April – Local singing contest at Three Kings Monument from 6 – 10 p.m.

12th April – Offering food to Buddhist monks – Alms and Merit Making Celebration of Chiang Mai’s 711th Anniversary at the Three Kings Monument from 6-8 a.m.

11th – 15th April – Lanna Art: Jour and Tung Festival at Wat Intakhin (the city’s sadue) from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

11th – 15th April – Traditional sand pagoda building, traditional blessings contest, local Lanna, Tung at Wat Jed Rin from 8 a.m. to 9.30 p.m.

11th – 16th April – A fair and variety of religious ceremonies at Wat Sri Supan from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

11th – 15th April – Traditional singing contest at Wat Phra Singh from 7- 10 p.m.

10th -14th April – Lanna local contest, Miss Friendship Contest, Miss Songkran Contest from 7 p.m. to midnight at Tha Pae Gate.

15th April – Merit Making for Thai New Year 2007 at Tha Pae Gate from 6-8 a.m.

15th April – Parade of pretty ladies holding umbrellas and riding bicycles at Nawarat Bridge to Tha Pae Gate from 7 – 12 a.m.

courtesy of the Bangkok Post
Photos: Lawrence Wheeler