Songkran (Thailand)

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Songkran
Songkran in Wat Kungthapao 03.jpg
New Year celebration, Rot Nam Dam Hua, a traditional way to celebrate with elders. Most Thai people go back to their hometowns to meet their elders.
Official name Songkran Festival (สงกรานต์)
Observed by Thai
Significance Marks the Thai New Year
Begins 13 April
Ends 15 April
Date 13 April
Next time 13 April 2015 (2015-04-13)
Duration 3 days
Frequency annual
Related to Thingyan, Lao New Year, Cambodian New Year
A truck load of people after a "hit", Chiang Mai, Thailand

The Songkran festival (Thai: สงกรานต์, pronounced [sǒŋ.krāːn], listen; from the Sanskrit word saṃkrānti,[1] or literally "astrological passage") 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.

New Year (Songkran) Celebrations in Pattaya (2013)

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[edit]

Songkran at Wat Thai in Los Angeles
Water throwing along the western moat of Chiang Mai, Thailand

The most obvious celebration of Songkran is the throwing of water upon others. Thais roam the streets with containers of water or water guns. In addition, many Thais will have small bowls of beige colored talc sold cheaply and mixed with water which is then smeared on the faces and bodies of random passersby as a blessing for the new year. Sometimes this talc is mixed with menthol. City officials close off many sections of the street thoroughfares for the festival disallowing all vehicular traffic save for ice trucks and fire engines which also partake in the watering festivities. These sections typically have makeshift gates manned by police who separate men and women in case of the need for a body search arises if it is suspected that prohibited item are brought into the main watering areas. This protocol prevents the possession of weapons, drug paraphernalia, glass items, or other prohibited items specified by city. It is very common to have groups of Thais post themselves at the side of roads or corners of intersections with garden hoses or large new plastic trash cans filled with water (typically ice cold) that is used to drench sidewalkers and random vehicles (taxis, cars, motorcycles, tuk tuks) that come within watering range. Although rare, unruly or inebriated individuals are known to throw ice cubes at passersby, an activity frowned upon by all. This sort of festivity, however, was not always the main activity of this festival. Songkran is traditionally a time to visit and pay respects to elders, including family members, friends, neighbors, and monks. The songkran festival is counted as a new life festivity in which many around the world take part in, but mostly focused in the country of Thailand.

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.

People in a tuk tuk getting soaked during Songkran in Chiang Mai
The use of chalk (Thai: ดินสอพอง) is also very common having originated in the chalk used by monks to mark blessings.
Some children having fun at the Bangkok Zoo during Songkran.

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.[2]

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.

Astrological calculation[edit]

Although the traditional calendar of Thailand like most of Southeast Asia uses a lunisolar calendar, the date of the new year was calculated on a purely solar basis. The term Songkran comes from Sanskrit "Sankranta" and means "a move or change" — in this case the move of the sun into AriesMesha Sankranti.

Chola Dynasty ruled Thailand during Rajendra Chola I's reign 1012–1044 C.E. Hence this festival coincides with the Tamil New Year, Puthandu, which follows the Nirayanam vernal equinox and generally falls either on 13 or 14 April of the Gregorian year. 13 or 14 April marks the first day of the traditional Tamil calendar and is a public holiday in both Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. Tropical vernal equinox falls around 22 March and, adding 23 degrees of trepidation or oscillation to it, we get the Hindu sidereal or Nirayana Mesha Sankranti (Sun's transition into Nirayana Aries). Hence, Songkran falls on the same date as observed by most traditional calendars in Sri Lanka and India as in Tamil Nadu, Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Manipur, Odisha, Punjab and Tripura, not to mention Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Laos.

Greetings[edit]

Monks receiving blessing at a temple in Ban Khung Taphao

The traditional greeting is "สวัสดีปีใหม่" (sawatdi pi mai), 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).

Controversy[edit]

"Celebrate Singapore"[edit]

In 2014 "Celebrate Singapore", a large two-day Songkran-style water festival, was planned for Singapore and the event was promoted as the "largest water festival party in Singapore". However, controversy emerged when the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Deputy Governor for Tourism Products, Vilaiwan Twichasri, claimed that Thailand holds exclusive rights to celebrate Songkran and planned to consult with officials at the Department of Intellectual Property, Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Culture to discuss a potential lawsuit; the Deputy Governer's view was supported by numerous Thai citizens on social media websites.[3] Chai Nakhonchai, Cultural Promotion Department chief, pointed out that Songkran is a traditional festival shared by many countries throughout Southeast Asia, while historian Charnvit Kasetsiri stated that no single nation can claim ownership of the tradition.[4] On 25 March 2014, the Bangkok Post reported that the Singaporean government had intervened in the festival's content and there would be no water-throwing, no water pistols or no public drinking; the festival was also reduced to a one-day event.[5]

Public nudity[edit]

Two Thai people were arrested during the 2014 celebration, as they had revealed their breasts in public in Pitsanulok province. Images of the nudity were disseminated on the Internet and condemnation was expressed in response. The pair was charged with indecent exposure, fined THB500 each and were taken to a local shrine to seek forgiveness from spirits. As of 15 April, a third person was being traced for exposing his penis in public in the same province.[6]

In other calendars[edit]

Songkran is also celebrated in Laos (called pee mai lao), Cambodia (called Chaul Chnam Thmey, Cambodian New Year), Myanmar (called Thingyan သင်္ကြန်), and by the Dai people in Yunnan, China (called Water-Splashing Festival). The same day is celebrated in South Asian calendars as well: the Assamese (called Rongali Bihu), Bengali (called Pohela Boishakh), Maithils (called Jood Sheetal), Oriya (called Maha Visuba Sankranthi), Malayali, Punjabi, Sinhalese, and Tamil New Years fall on the same dates, based on the astrological event of the sun beginning its northward journey. Songkran as such is similar to the Indian festival of Rangapanchami, Holi, with a lot of splashing of water as paints, colored dusts, and fragrances.

Songkran is similar to Jood Sheetal festival celebrated by Maithils in parts of Bihar and Nepal, also their new year, where water is poured on younger people's head, on plants, roads and everywhere possible. With putting water, one of the 5 constituents of life, on heads of youngers, elders bless them to be satisfied and never be longing for something unduly (Jiya Judal rahai in maithili). In Maithil villages, same age people pour water and mud on each other in celebration.

The traditional new year celebration in Sri Lanka also coincides with the Thai new year.

In Nepal, the official new year is celebrated on the 1st of Baisakh (Baisākh) according to astrological calendar Vikram Samwat and day often falls somewhere between 12–15 April.

Songkran occurs at the same time as that given by Bede for festivals of Eostre — and Easter weekend occasionally coincides with Songkran (most recently 1979, 1990, and 2001, but not again until 2085.[7])

Accidents[edit]

Thai people should think about what we want and how we want to promote the image of our country. Do we want to be known as the hub of the water party with booze and a high death toll? Or do we want to be known for having a beautiful culture that no one else has" —Prommin Kantiya, director of the Accident Prevention Network (APN) [8]

Police statistics show that the death toll from road accidents doubles during the annual Songkran holiday. According to the figures, between 2009 and 2013 there were about 27 road deaths per day during non-holiday periods and an average of 52 road deaths per day during Songkran. Thailand has the second-highest traffic fatality rate in the world, with 44 deaths per 100,000 residents, according to researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Approximately 70% of the accidents that occurred during the long holiday period were motorcycle accidents. About 10,000 people per year die in motorcycle accidents—both the drivers and passengers.[8]

During the 2014 Songkran festivities, 204 deaths and 2,142 injuries occurred by the end of the third day. Drunk driving and speeding were the most significant causes of accidents, in which motorcycles and pickup trucks were mostly involved.[9]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Saṃkrānti, Monier Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary
  2. ^ http://www.thaiworldview.com/feast/songkran.htm
  3. ^ "Suit eyed for Singapore Songkran". Bangkok Post. 18 March 2014. Retrieved 16 April 2014. 
  4. ^ "Songkran in Singapore". Bangkok Post. 19 March 2014. Retrieved 16 April 2014. 
  5. ^ "Only in Singapore: No Songkran". Bangkok Post. 25 March 2014. Retrieved 16 April 2014. 
  6. ^ "Ladyboys Arrested For Songkran Breast Exposure". Khaosod English. Khaosod Public Co.,Ltd. 15 April 2014. Retrieved 16 April 2014. 
  7. ^ Ronald M. Mallen (April 2002). "Easter Dating Method". Astronomical Society of South Australia. Archived from the original on 20 March 2012. Retrieved 20 March 2012. "List of Easter Sunday Dates 2000-2099" 
  8. ^ a b "Lawless culture takes its toll". Bangkok Post. 11 Apr 2014. Retrieved 11 Apr 2014. 
  9. ^ "Forty three more die on third day". Thai PBS. 15 April 2014. Retrieved 16 April 2014. 

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

E-books