It’s new years celebrations, its the hot season in April so lets play with water. Yes Songran is a water festival and historically it was a more refined event, these days its time to splash. We decided to venture out into the old city to see what this was all about. The word Songkran is from Sanskrit language and means the passage of the sun from one sign of the Zodiac to another. The Songkran celebration is similar to those of the Indian Holi Festival, the Chinese Ching Ming, and the Christian Festival of Easter. Indeed April Fool’s Day probably originated as mocking those who didn’t accept the switch of New Year from April to January in France in the Sixteenth Century.
The date was originally set by astrological calculations, but it is now fixed on 13 April. The festival may be extended for a few days depending on the area of Thailand and if some of the celebrations fall over a weekend. In Thailand, New Year is now officially celebrated on January 1, in line with almost all other countries. Songkran was the official New Year until 1888, when it was switched to a fixed date of 1 April. It wasn’t until 1940, that this date was then shifted to 1 January.
The most famous aspect of the Songkran celebrations is the throwing of water. The custom originates from spring cleaning aspect of Songkran. Part of the ritual was the cleaning of images of Buddha. Using the ‘blessed’ water that cleaned the images to soak other people is seen as a way of paying respect and bring good fortune. It also doesn’t hurt that April is the hottest part of the year in Thailand, so being soaked is a refreshing escape from the heat and humidity.
Nowadays Thais will walk the streets having ‘water fights’ using containers of water or water guns, or stand at the side of roads with a hose and soak any one who passes by. You may also get covered in chalk, a custom originating from the chalk used by monks to mark blessings. This combination of water and powder is almost identical to the celebrations of Holi, and indeed, it maybe that the customs originated in India as certainly Songkran is celebrated more widely and longer in the Northern part of Thailand.
As mentioned, Songkran is a Spring Cleaning Day, both physically and spiritually. On the physical side, in addition to cleaning other customs are that anything old and useless must be thrown away or else it will bring bad luck to the owner. On the spiritual side, some people make New Year resolutions and others just enjoy the fun. Having enjoyed it once, we are likely to avoid the crowded city and leave it to those younger.