|Lao New Year / Songkran / Pii Mai|
Lao people bathing the Buddha during the New Year
|Official name||Songkran (ສົງກຣານ)|
|Also called||Pii Mai (ປີໃໝ່)|
|Significance||Marks the Lao New Year|
|Related to||Thingyan, Cambodian New Year, Sinhalese New Year, Songkran (Thailand)|
Lao New Year is a popular English name for a traditional celebration known in Laos as "Songkran" (the Lao name of Sanskrit origin) or "Pii Mai". Lao New Year is the most widely celebrated festival in Laos. The festival is also celebrated by the Lao in the United States of America, Canada, France, and Australia. Lao New Year takes place in April, the hottest time of the year in Laos, which is also the start of the monsoon season. Lao New Year or Songkran takes place at roughly the same time as the new year celebrations of many countries in South and Southeast Asia.
The official festival lasts for three days from April 13 to April 15 (although celebrations can last more than a week in towns like Luang Prabang). The first day is the last day of the old year. Houses and villages are properly cleaned on the first day. Perfume, water and flowers are also prepared for the Lao New Year. The second day of the festival is the "day of no day", a day that falls in neither the old year or the new year. The last day of the festival marks the start of the new year.
Water is used for washing homes, Buddha images, monks, and soaking friends and passers-by. Students first respectfully pour water on their elders, then monks for blessings of long life and peace, and last of all they throw water at each other. The water is perfumed with flowers or natural perfumes. Some people prefer flowers in the water to give a pleasant smell, as well as adding cologne/perfume. Over the years another tradition has developed with Lao New Year: people will smear or throw cream (shaving cream or whipped cream) or white powder on each other during the celebrations.
Sand is brought to the temple grounds and is made into stupas or mounds, then decorated before being given to the monks as a way of making merit. There are two ways to make the sand stupas. One way is to go to the beach, and the other way is to bring sand to the wat, or pagoda. Sand stupas are decorated with flags, flowers, white lines, and splashed with perfumed water. Sand stupas symbolize the mountain, Phoukao Kailat, where King Kabinlaphom's head was kept by his seven daughters.
Another way to make merit at this time is to set animals free. The Lao believe that even animals need to be free. The most commonly freed animals are tortoises, fish, crabs, birds, eels, and other small animals.
Flowers are gathered to decorate Buddha images. In the afternoons people collect fresh flowers. Senior monks take the younger monks to a garden filled with flowers, where they pick flowers and bring back to the wat to wash. People who didn't participate in the flower picking bring baskets to wash the flowers so the flowers can shine with the Buddha statues. In the evening lao people usually go to the temple to worship the Buddhas.
There is an annual beauty pageant in Luang Prabang to crown Miss Pbeemai Lao (Miss Lao New Year). There are many beauty pageants in Laos, but Luang Prabang - the old capital - is widely known for its Nangsoukhane pageant. There are seven contestants, each one symbolizing one of King Kabinlaphom's seven daughters.
Music and dance
During Lao New Year, there are many spectacles including traditional Lao music, mawlum, and lumvong (circle dancing). During the daytime almost everybody is at the temple worshipping, hoping to have a healthier and happier life in the new year. During the evening, people of all ages go to the wat for entertainment.
There are several ways to wish someone a happy Lao New Year. The most common expressions are sohkdee pbee mai, souksanvahn pbeemai or sabaidee pbeemai, which can be translated into English as "Happy New Year".
Advice for tourists
Tourists that plan to travel to Laos during the New Year are advised to be prepared to be soaked. This has an important role in Lao culture - they are not only wishing a long and healthy life for themselves, they are also wishing the same for others.
- Sysamouth, Vinya. "History of the Lao New Year". Retrieved 13 April 2013.
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