Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Songkran Festival

Songkran" is a word from the Sanskrit language which means to "move into" and refers to the orbit of the sun moving into Aries. It marks the end of a 12-month cycle and the beginning of a new solar year. Songkran is therefore the Thai New Year celebrations. Songkran Festival ( Thai New Year ) is celebrated by Thais around the world over a 3 day period from April 13 to April 15. Each of the days has it own ceremonies and significance.


"Sangkarn Lhong day" marks the end of an era. Various activities are undertaken to "send off" the outgoing year. In the morning, merit-making rituals are performed and offerings are made to the Buddhist monks. Spring-cleaning and personal cleansing are also part of this "renewal" process. Later in the day, Buddha images are bathed with lustral water in a gesture of respect. The religious ceremonies include a procession of Buddha images through the city streets offering an opportunity for residents of the community to take part in the bathing rites. An annual "Miss Songkran" parade and floral floats are part of the popular festivities held to greet the Thai new year.

( Bathing of Buddha statues )


On April 14, the position of the sun is mid-way between Pisces and Aries. "Wan nao" or "Wan da" is a day of preparation as family members gather to help prepare offerings for the monks for the next morning. The afternoon is spent carrying sand into the 'wats' or temples. This is considered to be an auspicious day when everyone sports a happy face and avoids uttering words deemed inauspicious or bad-tempered. Merit-making continues in the morning with offerings being made to Buddhist monks. The world-famous Songkran water-splashing festive fun takes place all day helping revellers to beat the summer heat. In the evening, sand is brought to the temples for the building of sand stupas which are then decorated with colourful flags and flowers. The practice reflects an ancient belief that when an individuals walks away from a temple, particles of sand from the temple grounds are inadvertently carried away on one's shoes or sandals. The building of sand stupas for the temple is seen to be a practical way of replacing the sand lost and a merit-making act through which blessings are earned.


April 15 marks the Thai New Year. This is the most important day of the Songkran New Year celebrations. It is a day traditionally spent making merit and performing charitable acts such as presenting offerings to the monks and listening to sermons, sprinkling holy water on Buddha images and monks, propping up the sacred Bo tree in the temple grounds, and calling on elders to receive their blessings.

A bathing ritual is observed in which lustral water is poured over respected elders in a gesture of respect and reverence. The seeking of their blessing or forgiveness for past wrong-doing is also implied. Additionally it is believed that through these acts of merit-making, loved ones, long-departed are endowed with blessings and good fortune. Last but not least comes the water-splashing ceremony and other festivities which is the most fun-filled part of the celebrations.

Nang Songkran

In the old days, when mass communications was somewhat limited, in order to help the illiterate learn on which day of the week Songkran was, a story on the origin of Nang Songkran was created . It was said that Tao Kabilaprom had seven daughters, known collectively as Nang Songkran . In a gambling game that he lost to Thammakumarn, Tao Kabilaprom had to pay his debt with his head. However, his head must not come into contact with the ground, air or water because it would cause catastrophes. To maintain peace on earth, his head was placed on a tray which was then taken to Krailad Mountain . Every year, one of the daughters would bring the head down to town for procession. Each daughter was unique in her own way and was identified by her ornaments, choice of weapons and means of transport symbolised by animals. Since there were seven daughters, they also served as fairy for each day of the week. The names of the seven Nang Songkran for each day are:

Sunday Tung-sa, Garuda

Monday Ko-ra-ka, Tiger

Tuesday Rak-so, Pig

Wednesday Mon-ta, Donkey

Thursday Kiri-nee, Elephant

Friday Kimi-ta, Buffalo

Saturday Maho-torn, Peacock

The religious ceremonies and folk rituals associated with Songkran are principally performed to bring good luck and prosperity. The rituals are also acts of gratitude and indebtedness undertaken in the memory of those who have passed on to another world.