People in Thailand and throughout Southeast Asia are celebrating today, or rather resting up from a day of joyous, water-drenched merriment, out on the streets of every city, town, and village, since this moment is the middle of the night (tii sahm krung, na kah?) in Thailand and environs. The festival of Songkran now centers on April 13th, and lasts from a day or two to three or four days, depending on traditions and what is possible for people in terms of daily life.
Songkran comes from Thailand’s Hindu religious traditions, which predate the arrival of Buddhism in the Kingdom. The word ‘songkran’ comes from Sanskrit, and refers to changes and transition. The dates of the Songkran festival vary each year, ranging this year from April 5 through April 20. How exactly does it work? I am not certain, though I understand that tomorrow night’s full moon plays a part, as does the position of the sun, and the zodiac. I will be studying up on that this year, but one detail to know is that prior to World War II, one of Thailand’s political leaders declared that an official Songkran Day was needed, and that April 13th made sense. Here in the USA, many temples and other Thai community groups and businesses celebrate on and around April 13th.
In Thailand, the tradition of playing with water (len nahm) tends to bring smiles and joy rather than anger, since April is the hottest month of the year weather-wise, and getting an expected drenching of cool, clean water can be a hoot. If you do not wish to be splashed or otherwise drenched, here’s what to do: Stay inside. Outside in the public space, it’s all about splashing good times.
Water plays a sacred role in Thai culture and tradition, with the anointing of the hands of the elders with lustral water being a beautiful tradition observed in both private and in public ceremonies. People visit Buddhist temple early in the morning and enjoy festivities all day long, often for many days. One tradition is bringing sand to the temple. This is a symbolic return of the dust of the world people have inadvertently taken from the temple grounds on the soles of their shoes, throughout the year. The donated sand is gathered up and shaped into small and large chedis, or stupas. These rounded structures are created on temple grounds and in other sacred places in order to house Buddhist relics.
Please enjoy this feature story from the Pattaya Mail, an English-language newspaper in the seaside resort town of Pattaya. Note the listing of many Songkran festivals throughout the Kingdom, along with photos of Songkran activities.
Thai New Year is the same as Cambodian New Year, Lao New Year, and Burmese New Year. It’s also celebrated in Yunnan Province in Southwestern China, which is the region from which modern-day Thailand’s people originated centuries ago. The word ‘songkran‘ is universal among all celebrants, as it comes from the celebration’s Sanskrit origins.
If you are in the vicinity of Washington DC, you will love Bangkok Golden, located in Falls Church, and featuring the food of Thailand and Laos. Here is chef-owner Khun Seng Luangrath, known as Chef Seng:
Here is her Songkran celebration tray, available through Tuesday, April 15th, with notes about the dishes.