The Songkran festival (Thai: สงกรานต์,) is celebrated in Thailand as the traditional New Year’s Day from 13 to 15 April. It coincides with the New Year of many calendars of South and Southeast Asia.
The date of the festival was originally set by astrological calculation, but it is now fixed. If these days fall on a weekend, the missed days off are taken on the weekdays immediately following. Songkran falls in the hottest time of the year in Thailand, at the end of the dry season. Until 1888 the Thai New Year was the beginning of the year in Thailand; thereafter 1 April was used until 1940. 1 January is now the beginning of the year. The traditional Thai New Year has been a national holiday since then.
Songkran has traditionally been celebrated as the New Year for many centuries, and is believed to have been adapted from the Sankranti Hindu festival. It is now observed nationwide, even in the far south. However, the most famous Songkran celebrations are still in the northern city of Chiang Mai, where it continues for six days and even longer. It has also become a party for foreigners and an additional reason for many to visit Thailand for immersion in another culture.
New year traditions
The most obvious celebration of Songkran is the throwing of water. Thais roam the streets with containers of water or water guns (sometimes mixed with mentholated talc), or post themselves at the side of roads with a garden hose and drench each other and passersby. This, however, was not always the main activity of this festival. Songkran was traditionally a time to visit and pay respects to elders, including family members, friends, neighbors, and monks.
Besides the throwing of water, people celebrating Songkran as a Buddhist festival may also go to a wat (Buddhist monastery) to pray and give food to monks. They may also cleanse Buddha images from household shrines as well as Buddha images at monasteries by gently pouring water mixed with a Thai fragrance (Thai: น้ำอบไทย) over them. It is believed that doing this will bring good luck and prosperity for the New Year. In many cities, such as Chiang Mai, the Buddha images from all of the city’s important monasteries are paraded through the streets so that people can toss water at them, ritually ‘bathing’ the images, as they pass by on ornately decorated floats. In northern Thailand, people may carry handfuls of sand to their neighborhood monastery in order to recompense the dirt that they have carried away on their feet during the rest of the year. The sand is then sculpted into stupa-shaped piles and decorated with colorful flags.
Some people make New Year resolutions – to refrain from bad behavior, or to do good things. Songkran is a time for cleaning and renewal. Besides washing household Buddha images, many Thais also take this opportunity to give their home a thorough cleaning.
The throwing of water originated as a way to pay respect to people, by capturing the water after it had been poured over the Buddhas for cleansing and then using this “blessed” water to give good fortune to elders and family by gently pouring it on the shoulder. Among young people the holiday evolved to include dousing strangers 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 further evolved into water fights and splashing water over people riding in vehicles.
Nowadays, the emphasis is 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 to lessen the many alcohol-related road accidents as well as injuries attributed to extreme behavior such as water being thrown in the faces of traveling motorcyclists.
The water is meant as a symbol of washing all of the bad away and is sometimes filled with fragrant herbs when celebrated in the traditional manner.
Songkran is also celebrated in many places with a pageant in which young women demonstrate their beauty and unique talents, as judged by the audience. The level of financial support usually determines the winner, since, to show your support you must purchase necklaces which you place on your chosen girl.
Songkran is celebrated as Sangken in northeastern areas of India, as the traditional New Year’s Day by the Buddhist Community. The Sangken festival is celebrated by the people of the Khampti tribe. The festival is also celebrated by Singpho, Khamyang, Tikhaks (Tangsa) and Phakyal community of Arunachal Pradesh, and Tai Phake community of Assam. Sangken generally falls in the month of ‘Naun Ha’, the fifth month of the year of the Khampti Lunar calendar coinciding with the month of April. It is celebrated in the last days of the old year and the Lunar New Year begins on the day just after the end of the festival.
The tradition of soaking people (mostly women) with water is typical in Slovakia and the Eastern Czech Republic during the original Easter celebrations on the beginning of April.
In some villages in South India, especially Karnataka, a festival called Okhali or Okhli is celebrated where every household keeps a barrel of water mixed with chalk and turmeric and throw it on passers-by. The date of Okhali coincides with that of Songkran in Thailand and Thingyan in Myanmar and not with the dates of Holi which is a north Indian festival.
The traditional greeting is “สวัสดีปีใหม่”, basically “Happy New Year”. Sawatdi is also used for “hello” or “goodbye”. Pi and mai mean “year” and “new” respectively in Thai. Another greeting used is “สุขสันต์วันปีใหม่” (suk san wan pi mai), where suk san means “happy”.
However, most people use “สุขสันต์วันสงกรานต์” (suk san wan songkran) — meaning “Happy Songkran Day” — since pi mai is more often linked with 1 January. Suk san is also used as an attribute for other days such as Valentine’s Day (“สุขสันต์วันแห่งความรัก” suk san wan haeng khwam rak; Happy Valentine’s Day).
Video Songkran Festival