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Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand

 

Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand
Songkran - the main New Year's celebration in Thailand

Songkran Festival.

This holiday is known perhaps more than any other outside of Thailand. Tourists from all over the world come to Thailand during this period to take part in officially authorized street madness where people are dousing each other with water and put powder on each other faces. For example, in 2013 during the Songkran there were more than 2 million tourists officially registered in Thailand.

In the same period, in some neighboring countries of Thailand (Laos, Cambodia and Burma (Myanmar)) there are also similar holidays, which have different names depending on the country, but the essence is very similar to the Thai Songkran. However, the most striking and memorable celebration can only be seen in Thailand, so tourists prefer to celebrate it there.

By the way, in Singapore starting from 2014, during the Thai Songkran there is being arranged a special attraction for tourists, which clearly and with all due respect, illustrates the cultural traditions of the neighboring country for the celebration of the Thai New Year. In this article we are going to tell about these cultural traditions of celebrating Songkran in Thailand, which bear little resemblance to the “orgy” that takes place in the famous tourist spots of Thailand during the festival..

Despite the fact that the officially fixed dates of the Songkran Festival in Thailand are the days from 13 to 15 April, in reality different provinces have their own dates and historically entrenched periods of celebration. This may be one day or a week further from the official dates. Therefore, in general we can say that the festival lasts from 5 to 24 of April. The exact dates of the Songkran Festival in different regions of Thailand and a sample activities program are posted on the website http://tourismthailand.org

On Koh Samui the Songkran celebration is traditionally held for only one day - April the 13th. The main "war zone" is focused on Chaweng Beach Road. But even during the other days, both before and after April the 13th, as well as in other areas besides Chaweng, people also are having fun pouring water on each other.

Songkran is the Sanskrit word that means "transition." And Songkran traditionally marks the end of the dry season and the beginning of the annual rainfall in the fifth month of the Thai lunar year. But due to the fact that Thailand occupies an extensive territory, and is greatly elongated from north to south, it is not everywhere that Songkran is celebrated during the rainy season. For example, on Koh Samui, during April and May and mid-June the weather is hot and dry and only in June and July the island welcomes the long awaited rains.

Thai calendar.

Why is it so that in the northern Thailand Songkran is called "Pi Mai" (New Year)?
In the Kingdom of Thailand the Buddhist calendar is considered official and it starts from the day when Gautama Buddha went into nirvana. Thus, Thailand is 543 years "older", and the Gregorian year of 2014 corresponds to the Buddhist year of 2557. Local calendars, as well as food labeling generally indicate the date according to both variants of chronology - Buddhist and Gregorian.

According to the Buddhist calendar, borrowed from Hinduism and based on the phases of the moon, the beginning of the first month of the new year falls on the first day of the waning moon. It happens in December, so formally in Thailand the New Year can be celebrated in December.. And by the way, for many, many years this very day has been considered an official start of the new year holiday, until on 24th of December 1940 (according to the Buddhist calendar - 2483) by decree of His Majesty Rama VIII Anantha Mahidol a single authoritative transition into the new year  was made in January 1.

After celebrating the New Year on January the 1st, together with everybody else, the people of the Kingdom are preparing for the meeting of the Chinese New Year, which is also celebrated according to the lunar calendar, and each year it falls on different dates in the period from January 21 to February 21. After that everyone is hoarding powers to celebrate Songkran – the Thai New Year..

Currently only in northern Thailand Songkran still can be called a New Year (Pi Mai), and this holiday can be called "an old Thai New Year", because it used to be that on the very last day of the Songkran Festival the Siam celebrated the beginning of the year, and later moved on to the Buddhist chronology, with the beginning of the year in December.

" Over the centuries the Songkran Festival has been a symbol of hospitality, love and the importance of maintaining strong relationships within families, communities and society. Songkran holiday helps people to cool off from the sweltering heat of the hot season, gives the opportunity to show respect for family values, to express respect for older people, to receive their blessings and pray for the loved ones ", - such an explanation of the essence of Songkran is given on the website of the Tourism Authority of Thailand

The Legend of Songkran

The tradition of celebrating Songkran is connected with a beautiful legend*, which tourists do not know about, but which explains some of the rituals of the festival. For example the presence of Lady Songkran in the legends is explained by the beautiful tradition of holding beauty contests in northern Thailand, where Miss Songkran is chosen..
* Illustrations to the legend can be seen in the photo gallery at the end of the article.

The main characters of the legend are: King (or perhaps a powerful magician or one of the gods) Kabilaprom and Prince Tammaban, which at the time was only 7 years old.

Coming from a noble and rich family, the prince was so intelligent and educated that this was irritating Kabilaproma beyond belief being himself an ill-tempered and prone to stupid bets fellow.. So one day, following the advice of his loyal sage, he offered the prince a deal: "If in seven days the prince could solve a riddle, then Kabilaprom shall cut his head off. If the answer is incorrect, the prince shall lose his head" And the riddle was: "Where is the soul of a man in the morning, at noon and in the evening?".

The appointed time has come out, but there was still no answer from the prince. Tammaban was sitting under a tree, wondering over the correct answer, when suddenly he heard two eagles talking to each other (their chicks were there during the conversation of the king and his sage and told everything they have heard to their parents).. The eagles were so enthusiastic about discussing the upcoming feast, that they did not notice how they let the correct answer slip casually: "In the morning the soul is on the face, so we start the day with a face wash, in the afternoon - it is in the chest, so we feel the world around with our hearts, and in the evening - the soul is down at our feet, so before going to bed we always wash our feet ".
Prince solved the riddle, so Kabilaprom had to fulfill its side of the bargain - to deprive himself of the head.

Unfortunately, Kabilaprom was so terrible that none of the natural elements wanted to take his head: being on the ground, it was causing fires; in the sky - carrying drought to the world; and even in the ocean it was leading to shoaling.

Then seven of his daughters, who were not as heartless as their father, decided to take turns, one after another every day, wearing his head mounted on a special gold platter. So people were saved from certain death by drought.

Daughters walked around the mountain Pra Sumane (Phra Sumane), which is considered sacred, and only in one direction - clockwise. So was originated a weekly cycle of seven days and the direction of the arrow in the clock..

Since a certain daughter with her own special preferences in clothing, food, drink, etc was bearing the kings head on a specified day, then depending on the day of the week where the beginning of Songkran falls on (April 13) , the Lady Songkran is appointed the daughter, which corresponds to that day of the week. Based on her preferences predictions are made about what will the next year be like..

For example, if Lady Songkran loves sesame seeds or nuts, then the year will be rich in harvest, and people will be healthy and well provided. If she prefers blood, expect bloody quarrels. If the weapon - expect storm or flooding, etc..

It's hard to believe, but according to this classification, the year that began on the April 13, 2012 (Friday), was expected to be very wet, with strong thunderstorms and floods, which has been confirmed later.
Tuesday fell on April 13, 2010, and the following year was remembered worldwide by the riots in the streets of Thailand and quite a bloody denouement. Were the predictions true for the other years - you can check by yourself.
For the record: April 13, 2014 falls on a Sunday, which is generally good, but April 13, 2015 falls on Monday, so get ready.
Sunday: Tungsatevee
Clothing - red; food - wild fruits; transport - garuda. In her right hand she holds a throwing disc and a seashell in her left hand.

Monday: Korakatevee
Clothing - yellow color with pearl ornaments; food - butter; transport - a tiger.
In her right hand - a dagger in the left one - a cane.

Tuesday: Ragsotevee
Clothing - light red (pink) dress, decorated with agate; food - blood; transport - a pig. Trident - in the right hand, hunting bow - in the left.

Wednesday: Montatevee
Clothes - emerald green dress, decorated with "cat's eye" stones: food - milk and butter; transport - donkey. In her right hand there is a pointed iron rod, in her left hand - a cane.

Thursday: Kirineetevee
Clothes - greenish-yellow (orange) dress with emerald ornaments; food - nuts and sesame seeds; transport - an elephant.
In her right hand - a hook to control the elephant in the left - a hunting rifle.

Friday: Kimitatevee
Clothes - white (or blue) dress, decorated with topaz; food - banana; transport - buffalo.
In her right hand - a dagger in the left - Thai lute.

Saturday: Mahotorntevee
Clothes - black (or violet), decorated with onyx; food - wild deer; transport - a peacock.
In her right hand - throwing disc, in the left - a trident.

By the way, thanks to this legend another Thai tradition has originated associated with wearing a certain color in the corresponding day of the week. That's why on Monday Thais often wear yellow t-shirts with royal symbols – by doing so they pay tribute to King Rama IX, who was born on Monday.

Traditions, symbols and rituals of Songkran

Water is a symbol of purification. Besides that it is the hottest time of the year when water brings coolness and relief, water also means purification from all the bad and negative things happened to a person in the past year. Traditionally in Songkran people would go out on the street with a cup of water, scented with flower petals and sprinkle each other with a couple of drops. Water was poured never on the head but on the shoulders and back. Now, especially in places where there is a lot of tourists - the whole tradition has turned into water battles "until the last drop of water" watering the "enemy" with all the available "tools" such as water guns, water cannons, buckets and throwing water from huge barrels.

Clay, which is now replaced by talc, is also a symbol of purification. It is believed that clay protects from dirt as well as talc, which the local population actively uses just as they would use clay - to maintain personal hygiene. And if clay was traditionally used only in small amounts, and only on the face, nowadays during Songkran talc is used not only to cover the face, but also clothing, and transportation. Some would use special kinds of talc with menthol to cool the skin off but they tend to "forget" that it might hurt the eyes.

Braided rope for luck on the wrist - is yet another symbol of Songkran. Those are tied to friends and family members as an expression of good will in the next year. The one who gets the rope should turn his palm up. Anyone who ties the rope, thanks the man for the past good deeds and bless him for the future. During Songkran one can meet people who have around 25-30 ropes on each hand, this means that many people had wished them all the best in the forthcoming new year. These strings must remain on their wrists all the time, until fall off by themselves.

The first two symbols of Songkran - the water and talc (clay)  -  tourists are well aware of, but there is a much deeper meaning of this holiday and it is not limited to these attributes and rituals.

The real Songkran is a celebration of love and respect, a day that Thais meet with their families (which is why, by the way, during the Songkran its better not to plan trips around Thailand - too many people are on the road and the transport is usually overloaded).
Songkran morning begins with a family trip to the temple, where they would see the monks, presenting them with gifts such as gourmet meals, pre-cooked at home. After returning from the temple comes the second part of the ceremony - family is bathing Buddha's statue. This is done with respect, using clean water, flavored with rose petals and jasmine. Then, in order to show respect for the older family members - the young ones would wash their hands with the same water. After the ceremony the family gathers at the dining table.

It is believed that in northern Thailand, where the soul of the Kingdom is kept, the Songkran festival is the most beautiful. Here all the traditions are carefully observed, and the celebration is being prepared for in advance and in all the detail. In Chiang Mai Songkran is celebrated from 12 to 15 of April.

The first day - the day of cleanliness. Houses are cleaned thoroughly followed by the traditional pouring of water, and in the evening the townspeople rush to the nature to the water reservoirs.

The second day - the day of the sweets, where lots of sweets is cooked so that in the evening it will be given to the monks. Besides the sweet gifts people bring clean sand to the temples which is used to make small pagodas (chedi). Sand pagodas decorated with flower petals and colored flags are erected around the viharn. In the evening there are festivities with food, dancing, artists and comedians performance at open stages, as well as theatrical performance of the national Thai epic Ramakien and Thai boxing fights ("Muay Thai"). For children there is a small town to play in.

The third day is a family day. In the morning everyone go to the temple, and then all the brothers and sisters, including those who came from afar, especially on holiday, are going to meet at their parents' houses..

The fourth day - the culmination of the festival. In addition to the daily pouring water over each other a carnival procession begins, during which the relationship between the members of the family, society, nature and the environment are shows. Citizens of a respectable age have their hands poured with water. And those who are younger after getting a permission, pour a small trickle of water over each others shoulders and on the back. While doing so there are words of blessing for the new year being being spoken..

On this day, gratitude and respect are expressed to all the older people. The youngest family members pour water to the other members and give gifts (clothes, towels, personal hygiene items - soap or talc, perfume, flowers or sweets). After that young people take it to the streets and sprinkle everyone with water from a silver bowl, symbolically showing their blessing and respect. In response, the elderly would symbolically daub them with white clay or talc, give their blessing as if putting a sign of protection from evil spirits. Moreover, all the actions such as sprinkling water, and applying clay or talc should only be carried out with the consent of the parties only after the "blessed" has agreed to accept this gift. Touching others without their permission is considered bad manners among the educated Thais.

The traditional purpose of the use of water during Songkran is receiving blessing for themselves and giving blessing to the others.
Yes, for the majority of the participants water symbolizes purification and renewal of the spirit. But nowadays it is difficult to get away with only a few drops - water is poured from buckets, quite suddenly and with ice which is actually not a good idea, as it can lead to hypothermia and sudden heart failure.

Tips for travelers

  • If you do not want to be drenched with water, and even worse - with cold water with ice shards, avoid walking on foot or driving around in an open transport.
  •     Before you go by car, fill the windscreen washer tank - you'll need water to wash the windscreen, which will be periodically smeared with talcum. And as the road will look like madness, it is better to monitor the view carefully. A word of advice - washing your car before or during Songkran is pointless.
  •     During the euphoria of the holiday someone might want to wish you a Happy New Year by opening the door and pouring water directly into the cabin. Unfortunately, not all cars withstand such inner cleaning. So better to keep the doors locked.
  •     Do not get too relaxed while driving. Note that in this period the Kingdom's roads accidents increase dramatically. Alcohol, total chaos, a lot of water and dodging motorcyclists and pedestrians are the main reasons.
  •     When you want to take part in the water battles, remember that the clothes would be soaked through and perhaps irredeemably spoiled. Note that jeans, when wet, can easily irritate skin, and wet clothes of the bright colors might be the reason for unwanted sexual harassment.
  •     Passport, paper money, bank cards and technical equipment are best to be stored in the hotel safe or securely packaged in plastic bags. If you still want to take photos and video - use transparent boxes, or use special equipment intended for use in water (eg, underwater camera).
  •     Water that you're using to hose friends and passers-by, must be clean and warm. Do not throw water suddenly and aggressively. Do not use water cannons and hoses with strong water pressure and do not hurt anyone..

 

More information on Songkran:

This is what it looked like here on Koh Samui,13 of April 2014:

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