The Song Kran Festival - Thai New Year - is celebrated throughout Thailand through prayer but also through the throwing of water at anyone who isn't old or a monk! The offical days each year are dictated by the moon but it tends to fall on 13, 14, and 15 of April each year.
What I didn't know was that the locals tend to start early! We started our trek on the 11th of April and we found that the locals liked to stand by the side of the road with buckets ready to throw at cars as we made our way through the area. Nice except that most vehicles have open back and sides, including ours!
One of the traditions is to spread clay over your body (and other people's) and then throw water. Fun!
Chiang Mai has one of the biggest celebrations of Song Kran in Thailand. The entire area around the moat is blocked by traffic and people throwing water. They get the water out of the river and throw it at you. There are people selling buckets, water pistols, clay and huge chuncks of ice by the river ready to sell to passing cars for reloads. it is complete dreadlock and people dress up and there is a carnival atmosphere to the whole thing.
What to do in Song Kran? Either stay inside for 5 days or go out and join in the fun! We hired a ute, climbed in the back with a huge bin of water and started throwing water!
APRIL 13 - WAN SANGKHAN LHONG
"Sangkarn Lhong day" marks the end of an era.
Various activities are undertaken to "send off" the outgoing year.
In the morning, merit-making rituals are performed and offerings are made to the Buddhist monks. Spring-cleaning and personal cleansing are also part of this "renewal" process. Later in the day, Buddha images are bathed with lustral water in a gesture of respect.
The religious ceremonies include a procession of Buddha images through the city streets offering an opportunity for residents of the community to take part in the bathing rites. An annual "Miss Songkran" parade and floral floats are part of the popular festivities held to greet the Thai new year.
Once the ceremonial gesture of respect has been shown and the good-spirited water-throwing is over, everyone returns home to "freshen up" and prepare for the evening's celebrations which consists of various performances and forms of entertainment is the "Ram Wong" Thai folk dance.
The "Ram Wong" enables everyone to join in the fun.
Songkran, or the Thai New Year, is still the most important of all the Thai festivals and holidays. Each year, the four-day celebration of Songkran consists of many activities, and these are briefly explained below.
April 12 is Wan Sungkharn Lohng. This is a day for house cleaning and general preparation for the New Year. In the evening it is traditional for Thais to dress up as a signal of the coming new year.
In Chiangmai, the Songkran procession is held on this day. This is a parade through Chiangmai comprised of Buddha images and attendants on floats, which are accompanied by minstrels and the town's people.
April 13 is Wan Nao. On this day people prepare cooked meals and preserved food for the Buddhist merit-making that takes place on the following day.
Activities at Wat Prasingh continue on this day and in the evening local residents go to the banks of the Mae Ping River and gather sand to be deposited in piles topped by flowers in the temples.
April 14 is Wan Payawan. On this day a grand new year begins with early morning merit-making at the temples. Preserved and cooked foods, fresh fruit, monks' robes and other offerings are made at the temples. In the home, people do the final cleaning of Buddha images using scented water. Traditionally this is the day that the pouring of water begins. It was once the practice to pour gently, but the fun-loving Thais have transposed this into a relative water free-for-all.
April 15 is Wan Parg-bpee. On this day homage is paid to ancestors, elders and other persons deserving respect because of age of position. This is called 'Rohd Nam Songkran', meaning 'The Pouring of Songkran Water', and the water is sprinkled on the elder persons while uttering wishes of good luck and a happy future.
In Chiangmai, this is the final day of the celebration and the day on which people have built up to a crescendo of water throwing. It is the day when all family and religious obligations have been completed and the people are totally dedicated to having fun.
Songkran marks the Thai new year and is a 3-day festival of water, in April. Celebrations take place in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Samut Prakan over different days. The most elaborate Songkran celebrations are in Chiang Mai. There is a procession where Phra Sing is transported from Wat Phra. People shower the image with water... and then one another until the festivities turn into an out and out water fight of mammouth proportions... Nobody is spared! Turbo water pistols are sold but for those who do not have or cannot afford anything will do - jugs, buckets... you get the idea. If you do not want to get wet... lock yourself away otherwise join in whole heartedly and enjoy - you will be very welcomed into the fray and will make many friends / water fighting comrades. I have taken part twice - it is a great experience.
Just be a little wary of the water; try not to get it in your mouth. The probability is that the water being thrown on you is dirty and you will get an upset tummy (ah, speaks words of wisdom from experience!)
And lastly - when you are done drenching the locals, Buddist monks and one another - if you find yourself with a redundant water pistol, or two, have a thought - there are probably Thai kids out there who would LOVE to be the next proud owner(s). We gave all our plastic water weapons to a hotel porter for his children - he was very happy with the goodies.
Songkran Day has been celebrated as New Year's Day in the Thai solar calendar since ancient times. The date coincides with the day the sun leaves Pisces and enters Aries, usually falling on April 13 of each year.
The word "Songkran" means a passage or course and refers to the position of the sun within the solar system. As the sun enters each of the houses of the zodiac constellation, a songkran cycle is completed. Over time, the use of the term has become more generic and Songkran is more commonly associated with the period when the sun enters Aries, in April. During this time, the sun is equidistant to the earth so there are an equal number of hours during the day and night, a phenomenon known as "mahasongkran" (the supreme cycle). This marks the beginning of the Thai new year.
Songkran is celebrated normally over a 3-day period.
The meaningful aspects of Songkran are varied and culturally rich.
The first Cultural Value is "Thanksgiving" - The demonstration of gratitude and an expression of thanks to individuals who have have "done good" or shown goodwill and are worthy of respect and recognition such as the bathing of Buddha statues with lustral water, and the pouring of lustral water over elders and respected individuals conveys this and other outward demonstration of respect.
The Second Cultural Value is Loyalty to Ancestors.
This is achieved through merit-making.
The Third Cultural Value focuses on the an individual's sense of awareness of his/her responsibilities towards the family and home.
It is demonstrated via the traditional custom of "spring cleaning".
The Fourth Value addresses the Value of Religion and highlights the well- defined roles and responsibilities of the "temples and monasteries" on the one hand and the community served by the religious institution.
The Fifth Value is "Acts of kindness and generosity" towards others or Doing good for others" by the preparation, exchange and sharing of food and desserts by members of the community and the sprinkling of water on each other.
The Sixth Value is the Spirit of Co-Operation through the enthusiastic participation of individuals of demonstrated through the enthusiastic participation of individuals of the community in Songkran festivities, sharing in the fun, spreading happiness and goodwill to all.
The morning of Songkran Day begins with merit-making according to local customs and traditions.
Younger folks make their way to show their respect and seek the blessings of elders and individuals of seniority by making offerings.
The ritual which accompanies this show of respect.
APRIL 14 - WAN NAO OR WAN DA
On April 14, the position of the sun is mid-way between Pisces and Aries.
"Wan nao" or "Wan da" is a day of preparation as family members gather to help prepare offerings for the monks for the next morning.
The afternoon is spent carrying sand into the 'wats' or temples.
This is considered to be an auspicious day when everyone sports a happy face and avoids uttering words deemed inauspicious or bad-tempered.
Merit-making continues in the morning with offerings being made to Buddhist monks. The world-famous Songkran water-splashing festive fun takes place all day helping revellers to beat the summer heat. In the evening, sand is brought to the temples for the building of sand stupas which are then decorated with colourful flags and flowers. The practice reflects an ancient belief that when an individuals walks away from a temple, particles of sand from the temple grounds are inadvertently carried away on one's shoes or sandals. The building of sand stupas for the temple is seen to be a practical way of replacing the sand lost and a merit-making act through which blessings are earned.
APRIL 15 - WAN PHYA WAN
April 15 marks the Thai New Year.
This is the most important day of the Songkran New Year celebrations. It is a day traditionally spent making merit and performing charitable acts such as presenting offerings to the monks and listening to sermons, sprinkling holy water on Buddha images and monks, propping up the sacred Bo tree in the temple grounds, and calling on elders to receive their blessings.
A bathing ritual is observed in which lustral water is poured over respected elders in a gesture of respect and reverence. The seeking of their blessing or forgiveness for past wrong-doing is also implied. Additionally it is believed that through these acts of merit-making, loved ones, long-departed are endowed with blessings and good fortune. Last but not least comes the water-splashing ceremony and other festivities which is the most fun-filled part of the celebrations.
The religious ceremonies and folk rituals associated with Songkran are principally performed to bring good luck and prosperity. The rituals are also acts of gratitude and indebtedness undertaken in the memory of those who have passed on to another world.
The Songkran activities that take place in various locations around the kingdom are culturally unique and reflect local beliefs and practices.
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