Last year at this time, we were drenched to the skin and loving it as we walked down the Beach Road at Pattaya. No it was not raining, it was bright and sunny. Hot to be precise. It was Songkran day and ice-cold water was being poured on us by everyone on the street.
Songkran is Thai New Year. A festival, celebrated for 3 days starting from 13th April, where getting wet and having fun is all part of the celebration.
At about eight in the morning we left our hotel and walked down the street in search for some breakfast. We noticed locals with bottles of water and big drums of ice water placed outside the shops, assuming that on a hot day like this, hydration must be high on the agenda, we walked on. But as we turned to the Beach road we were bombarded with a garden hose. Stunned, Speechless and completely Soaked, we felt a little Stupid not remembering that today was Songkran. The posters and information was available all over since we had arrived in Thailand.
From then on there was no looking back, you can’t avoid it (unless you stay in your hotel room for 3 days). The lively celebrations on the streets were infectious and we even spotted foreigners joining in with water battles. And they say – if you can’t beat them join them! So we did.
It’s like our very own Holi, just no colors and the other skin harming stuff. Only some chalk (white mud paste) and water is sprayed. From garden hoses to the well-aimed bucket or water-cannon delivered in a festive spirit. The best way to beat the heat, wouldn’t you say!
Bands of youngsters roamed the streets or whizzed past in open trucks with water guns and buckets of water with which they doused one another and others on the street. You’ll find toy stores in big malls selling water-guns and accessories. 7-Eleven sells handy little plastic purses that are the right size for a camera, some money and keys.
Although Songkran seems like amusement for the kids. It has a more significant role – the underlying significance of Songkran is the process of cleansing and purification – the purging of all ills, misfortune and evil and starting the New Year afresh with all that is good and pure. Water is symbolic of the cleaning process and signifies purity.
Traditional Songkran celebrations focus on the renewal of the earth and the home. Wats, homes and Buddhist statues are cleaned. Often, the statues are removed from their wats and paraded around their communities, allowing everyone the chance to make merit by washing them with water, which Buddhists believe will help them achieve a higher ranking in the celestial order when they are reborn.
Songkran Day has been celebrated as New Year’s Day in the Thai solar calendar since ancient times. It is also popular in the neighboring countries of Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos. The date coincides with the day the sun leaves Pisces and enters Aries, usually falling on April 13 of each year.
Doesn’t Songkran kind of sounds like of the Hindu festival of Sakranti? Well, because it is related to it. Sankranti is the sanskrit word in Indian Astrology which refers to the transmigration of the Sun from one Rāshi (sign of the zodiac) to another.
Sankranti is celebrated all over South Asia with some regional variations. It is known by different names and celebrated with different customs in different parts of the country. In India it is known by different regional names Makar Sankranti, Uttarayan, Maghi, Pongal, Magh Bihu and so on. In Thailand it is Songkran, Laos – Pi Ma Lao, Myanmar – Thingyan, Cambodia – Moha Sangkran.
Here are some things that coincide with the Thai Ney Year, and are significant in India.
- The festival of Baisakhi falls on April 13 every year and April 14 once in every 36 years. Change in date is because of the fact that date of Baisakhi is reckoned according to the solar calendar.The other celebrations are ‘Rongali Bihu‘ in Assam, ‘Naba Barsha’ in Bengal, ‘Puthandu’ in Tamil Nadu, ‘Pooram Vishu’ in Kerala and ‘Vaishakha’ in the state of Bihar.
- On 13th April 1699, The Tenth Guru of Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh founded Khalsa Panth or the Order of Pure Ones and gave a unique identity to Sikhs. On the same day the guru administered amrit (nectar) to his first batch of five disciples making them Singhs, a martial community.
- On 13th April 1875, Swami Dayanand Saraswati founded the Arya Samaj – a reformed sect of Hindus who are devoted to the Vedas for spiritual guidance and have discarded idol worship.
Back to our trip. Last year Thailand was under political unrest and yet the Red shirt anti-government protesters celebrated the Songkran New Year festival with full enthusiasm and let others enjoy as well. The Siam area where they were protesting was ironically a peaceful sight.
Like any other form of good entertainment, there is an unfortunate side to the holiday. There is a lot of drinking and roads/pavements get slippery and wet by the end of the day. It’s best to be careful mostly about – road accidents, rowdy hooligans and getting sun burnt. Basic common sense helps!
It would be silly in my opinion to avoid Songkran, I mean, welcoming the New Year with a gigantic water fight seems like the best idea ever. But here are some tips from Travelfish on avoiding the water festival.
Although Songkran Festival is celebrated throughout Thailand, I have read that Chiang Mai City is the best venue for the event. Here tourists can take part in the Grand Songkran Festival ceremony and pour scented water on the image of Buddha. The important ritual of bathing Buddha with the water is witnessed by thousands of foreign tourists.
We had a great time in Pattaya and Bangkok and wish I was there today!
Wish you all a happy new year!! sa-wat-di pi mai!!
Photos courtesy – Ratchaprasong, Kara van Malssen, Karol Gajda , Eternal Vagabond and Ritika Sabharwal