We posted a calendar of events for the
Songkran Festival on our Facebook page a while back and received very little
interest in the traditions of this very old holiday. Instead, there was just
a quip that there was something other than water throwing. Given the deep
meaning and traditions surrounding Songkran, this is kind of sad actually.
Until 1888 Songkran, which used to fall under a solar- lunar calendar, was
the actual start of the New Year in Thailand, however modernization brought
about the change of calendar and the New Year falling on January 1. The date
of the New Year was calculated on a purely solar basis, however and the term
comes from the Sanskrit word Sankranta which means a move or change, here
the move of the sun into Aries, the first on the lunar calendar.
Initially believed to be an Indian import, the date coincides with the date
of festivals in Tamil and other states of India as well as in Sri Lanka,
Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, and Laos. However, it was adapted by the
Siamese Royal Court as early as the Sukhothai reign and although practiced
by officials was not as large or elaborate as it is today. The tradition
continued through the Ayutthaya rein and was expanded to include the bathing
of Buddha images and the construction of sand pagodas.
Essentially now a Buddhist holiday, traditionally families would clean their
houses for the New Year, then go to the Wat and make merit and offer alms.
Here they would pour water over the Buddha image, in a cleansing ritual
using water mixed with a traditional fragrance. It is believed that this
will bring prosperity and good luck for the New Year. Water captured from
the washing of the Buddha images is poured over the shoulder of the elderly
in the family to pay respects.
Sand pagodas are built at several of the area temples as a symbolic
returning of the soil carried away by the feet on visits to the temple
during the year.
It is interesting to note, when out and about throwing water from a bucket,
or spraying it at people, that oftentimes, a Thai person will simply pour
the water over your shoulder in a reminder of traditions past.
It’s a pity, because the notion is lovely, paying respects to the elderly,
washing away the bad, cleaning up to start the New Year afresh. Of course,
this year was like most and a lot of people came just to get drunk and have
fun. Unfortunately hand in hand with that is the drunk driving and getting
into accidents. Chiang Mai usually places in the top 2 or 3 in the nation
for road deaths during Songkran. Unfortunately not the way most families
want to start their New Year, mourning a loved one killed on the road.