Cover Story : Vol.35 No.4 / 5 April 2018 By Saranya Suksawat
- Songkran joyful procession at Phra Pradaeng, Samut Prakan Province. Songkran joyful procession at Phra Pradaeng, Samut Prakan Province.
- A procession of Buddha image goes around the town in Chiang Mai on Songkran Day. A procession of Buddha image goes around the town in Chiang Mai on Songkran Day.
- Thai people enjoy splashing water with elephants in Songkran Festival at Ayutthaya. Thai people enjoy splashing water with elephants in Songkran Festival at Ayutthaya.
- Local people insert traditional flags (tungs) into the send pagoda at Wat Intharawat, Chiang Mai Province, on Songkran Day. Local people insert traditional flags (tungs) into the send pagoda at Wat Intharawat, Chiang Mai Province, on Songkran Day.
- A scene of water fight in Songkran Festival at Chiang Mai (Photo by courtesy of TAT, Chiang Mai Office) A scene of water fight in Songkran Festival at Chiang Mai (Photo by courtesy of TAT, Chiang Mai Office)
- Thousands of Thai and foreign reveiers participate in the famous human wave activity on Khao Niao Road, Khon Kaen Province. (Photo by courtesy of TAT, Khon Kaen Office) Thousands of Thai and foreign reveiers participate in the famous human wave activity on Khao Niao Road, Khon Kaen Province. (Photo by courtesy of TAT, Khon Kaen Office)
In most places, the event is held from April 13 to 15, but it could span over one week or more in some rural areas. Being a most fun-filled festival, Songkran is thus a great time for foreign tourists to enjoy the water fights and experience distinctive cultural activities in a delightful atmosphere.
The Meaning of Songkran
Songkran is a Sanskrit word in Thai form which means the entry of the sun into any sign of the zodiac. Thailand adopted this tradition from the ancient Brahmins in India who believed that the sun entered Aries and finished its orbit round the Earth on April 13. In northern India, April is the beginning of spring when the trees start to bud and bloom and the hibernating animals come out to find food. Therefore, for the ancient northern Indian people, April was a sign of new life and marked the beginning of a new year. That is why they observed (some still do) their New Year's Day on April 13. The Thais, who established their cultural relations with the Indians even before their recorded history, readily inherited this tradition partly because they were free from farm work during this period.
How the Thais Celebrate Songkran
Before the festival, people will clean their houses to wash away any bad luck of last year, and bring good fortune into their lives instead.
The Songkran celebrations begin with food presentation to the monks who walk along the streets in the early morning to receive alms, while some people bring food to the nearby temples for the monks. After that, they may free birds or fish as a way of merit making too.
Another fun and meaningful activity is building sand pagodas which also takes place in a temple. The pagodas are often decorated with lighted candles, colorful flags, and flowers. The belief in this tradition is that people bring back sand to the temple to compensate for the sand they may have inadvertently carried away on the bottom of their shoes over the past year.
In some northern rural areas, explosive sounds and loud noises are made to scare away evil spirits. Candles are lit and piles of wood are burned in front of the houses on New Year's Eve to shine the way for the spirits which, according to ancient belief, will come out of their places on that night.
In big cities like Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Khon Kaen, highly revered Buddha images are carried in a procession along the streets to an open space for people to sprinkle scented water on to express their veneration. In many places, the highlight of the festival is a grand procession of floral floats carrying Miss Songkran (the beauty queen) and other beautiful girls dressed in traditional Thai costumes.
One of the activities for young people to do is to visit and convey their best wishes to their elders by pouring water on them or their palms, and the elders will give blessings to them in return. After this, it is time for children and young people to have a good time in water throwing, dancing and folk games.
The Significance of Water
Some readers may wonder why water is used as a means of greetings, blessing and showing respect in the Songkran Festival. In fact, water is used for such purposes not only at the Songkran Festival, but also at other Thai traditional rites, such as weddings and funerals. The reason is that in olden times water was regarded as a pure element that could wash away all kinds of evil and misfortune, and bring good luck and happiness with it.
Songkran as a Family Bond
In former times when transportation was difficult, Songkran Day was especially significant to the Thai people. Because, in addition to its importance as New Year's Day when boys and girls had a chance to meet one another and children had a lot of fun, Songkran, like Christmas Day of the Westerners and the Spring Festival of the Chinese, means the day when members of a family, usually scattered in far away places, have a chance to stay, enjoy and celebrate together in a family reunion.
Where to Celebrate
The Songkran Festival is celebrated nationwide from April 13 - 15. However, in some provinces the festivity starts later than normal. Major provinces famous for their grand celebrations are:
- Bangkok (April 13 – 15) - Khao San Road and Silom Road
- Khon Kaen (April 13 – 15) – Wat Chai Si and Khao Niao Road
- Chiang Mai (April 13 – 15) – Tha Phae Gate, around the Old City Moat, and Huay Kaew Road
- Phuket (April 13 – 15) – Phuket town, Patong Beach, Kata Beach and Karon Beach
- Sukhothai (April 13 – 15) – Sukhothai Historical Park and Khao Tok Road
- Ayutthaya (April 13 – 15) – around Ayutthaya Old City. Here local people enjoy water splashing with elephants.
- Pattaya (April 17 – 19) – Pattaya Beach and Jomtien Beach
- Samut Prakan (April 20 – 22) – Phra Pradaeng District. Phra Pradaeng is one of the few places in Thailand that celebrates the Songkran Festival in the Thai-Mon style with a magnificent parade.
Enjoy Khon Kaen’s Two Distinctive Styles of Songkran Celebrations
A major city in the northeastern region, Khon Kaen (449 km. from Bangkok) hosts one of the kingdom’s largest Songkran festivals, making it one of the best places to celebrate the world's biggest water fight. It is the only city that the festival is held grandly in two distinctive styles at two places – traditional style at Wat Chai Si (April 13), and modern style on Khao Niao Road (April 13 – 15). The festival at Wat Chai Si showcases the most unique northeastern Thai culture that cannot be seen elsewhere in Thailand.
* Songkran at Wat Chai Si (Traditional Style)
Wat Chai Si, a famous ancient temple in Muang District, celebrates the festival in its unique traditional style. In the afternoon of April 13 every year, this temple holds an ancient ritual of removing bad luck for local people who bring offerings to the temple. The offerings specified for this ritual consist of many types of cereal, cotton fabric in red, black, white and yellow colours, flowers, candles, joss sticks and sacred white threads. All these materials are arranged neatly in a square container made from the leaf sheath of banana tree. In the ritual, the monks recite the sutras and then remove bad luck for devotees by reciting to worship the angels and spirits with those offerings. After the ritual is finished, the devotees cleanse or purify the Buddha image by sprinkling it with holy water. Then the fun of water splashing begins.
Wat Chai Si, being of archaeological, historical as well as social environmental importance, was declared a national ancient monument on August 20, 2001. The ordination hall of this temple houses magnificent mural paintings, both inside and outside, depicting Buddha’s life, the story of Phra Wetsandorn (the Buddha’s last life) and Sang Sin Chai, the ancient Lao literature. (During 525 - 520 BCE, the Northeast was ruled under Lao Kingdom of Lan Chang.) At present, the murals of this temple still maintain its beauty and are considered one of the most beautiful in the region.
* Songkran on Khao Niao Road (Modern Style)
This celebration, primarily on Khao Niao Road (Sticky Rice Road), features ox-cart processions decorated with flowers and beauty pageants. The participants joyously splash water on one another and folk dance with local elders. Moreover, you can participate in the “human wave activity” which in 2011 was recorded in the Guinness Book of World Record as the largest human wave in the world with a total number of 50,206 people joining in. Other main activities include offering alms to monks, Miss Songkran beauty pageant, stalls offering food and local products, traditional dance and many other forms of entertainment.
Apart from the above-mentioned provinces, you can take part in this fun-filled festivity in many other tourist cities. In all places, there are a lot of activities and events such as colourful and splendid processions, Miss Songkran beauty contest, cultural and musical performances. No matter which place you end up visiting, you are sure to find great fun.
So, if you are planning a vacation in April, why not take this opportunity to join the Thai people in their celebrations and the biggest water fight in the world!
Do’s and Don'ts for Songkran Festival
- Before you go out, get a zip lock bag to prevent your phone and wallet from getting wet. You should carry only essentials like phone, some cash and a laminated photocopy of your passport. Leave all important documents in the hotel safe.
- Bring a water bottle to keep your body hydrated as you will be highly active all day long.
- If you are a woman, you should dress decently and modestly. Do not dress provocatively – especially spaghetti strap tops or white t-shirts that become revealing when wet. Thai people are traditionally conservative, but some young men may take advantage of the festive atmosphere to grope you.
- Ground is wet everywhere during the Songkran festival, so you should wear sandals or flip-flops with a firm grip to the ground to avoid accidents.
- Use clean water for splashing. After finishing with water splash activity, you should take a shower as a precaution against getting a skin rash.
- The most important thing is to smile and have fun. This is the time of celebration. So, please enjoy it with the Thai people.
- Never throw water on motorcyclists. It may unbalance them and cause accidents. Also, don’t throw water on monks, babies and the elderly.
- Avoid putting talcum powder on women’s faces. Indecent touching has been banned and it is better to avoid any misunderstanding.
- Avoid drinking alcohol. If you get wild and rowdy, you may consequently get into trouble.
- Do not use high-pressure water gun. It is illegal and can cause injuries.
- Women should avoid applying heavy makeup. Since it’s a water festival, your makeup may get spoiled by a splash of water.
- Do not carry your passport, credit cards or other important documents with you. There is a risk of your important documents getting wet.
Remark: Schedules are subject to change without prior notice. For exact dates, please check www.tourismthailand.org, or call TAT Call Center - 1672.