The Rites of Songkran: The Thai Traditional New Yearby

Worachaya Chaovalit

April 13 every year, the Thai traditional New Year is an occasion for a family reunion called "Songkran." It is a time when Bangkok becomes a deserted city because working people in the city return to their rural hometowns to celebrate the festival.

The Songkran festival is an annual celebration that is held throughout the kingdom. In fact, "Songkran" is a Thai word that means "move" or "change place" since it is the day when the sun changes its position in the zodiac.

The Thai traditional New Year begins with early morning Buddhist merit making, offering food to Buddhist monks and releasing caged birds to fly freely into the sky. During this occasion, some other animals that people keep such as turtles and fish will be set free.

Paying homage to one's ancestors is an important part of the day. People will pay their respects to the elders by pouring scented water over the palms of their hands. The elders in return utter good wishes and words of blessing to the youngsters for good luck, health and prosperity.

In the afternoon, after performing a bathing rite of Buddha images and the monks at the temple, the celebrants both young and old, joyfully splash water on each other to relieve the heat of the sunshine in April, the hottest month of the year in Thailand. Water runs deep in Thai New Year traditions, both as a symbol of cleansing and as a symbol of renewal.

As part of the water sprinkling and water splashing, people encounter others with a small silver bowl filled with a "white powder" or "pasty substance." This is one of the oldest Songkran traditions. The white paste is a sign of protection and promises to ward off evil. The person with the paste is often older and applies the paste to various parts of the face, neck and torso of others.

The most talked about celebration takes place in the northern proving of Chiang-Mai where Songkran is celebrated from April 13 to 15. During this period, people from all parts of the country flock there to enjoy the water festival, to watch the Miss Songkran Contest and enjoy the sights of the beautiful parades.

After it is over, people return to their places. They return to their normal lives with the memorable moments, waiting for when it's time for the family reunion and splashing water festival again.


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