What is the narrative or origins of Thailand’s famous water-throwing festival? Sure, you may know that it is the traditional Thai New Year and that it is rooted in Buddhist traditions, but surely there must be more than that? Well, there is.
A whole legendary story in fact. And believe it or not, Songkran is celebrated in both Thailand and India with different names but with the same purpose and are somehow both related to water.
The Myth of Songkran
The Hindu legend goes that there was a young man named Dhammaban who was so intelligent that he could even understand the language of birds. One day the Hindu God Brahma came down to test Dhammaban’s intelligence and asked him this question, “Where is the glory of a man in the morning, afternoon and evening?”
In setting this question for Dhammaban, Brahma also applied the condition that if the young man did not correctly answer the question within a week, his head would be cut off. But if he found the answer, Brahma would cut off his own head.
Dhammaban’s Pressing Question
Since the question was challenging, Dhammaban put all his effort into finding the answer. One day, he stopped by a tree in a forest and found two birds nesting in it. By coincidence, Dhammaban overheard the female bird telling the male bird about the bet Brahma had made with Dhammaban. The male bird knew the correct answer to Brahma’s question and told it to the female bird, and Dhammaban managed to hear it. The answer is this:
- In the morning, the glory of man was on his face because a man has to wash his face every morning.
- In the afternoon, the glory of man would be on his chest or body since one bathes.
- In the evening, the glory of man is on the feet as a man must wash his feet before going to bed.
Someone is deemed admirable if they can behave this way because they can wash away all the dirt that blocks the glory away
Dhammaban rushed to see Brahma after learning the answer. Upon hearing Dhamaban’s correct answer, Brahma had to cut off his head.
A beheading bungle
Though Brahma was obliged to decapitate himself, he knew his head was too sacred and if it landed on the earth, his head would create a destructive inferno, and if it fell in the ocean, the sea would boil and sear until dry.
So, to dodge a cataclysm, Brahma made his seven daughters carry his head on a platter and keep it safe in the place the god Shiva lives, Mount Kailash. Thus, from then on, a tradition began where once every year, one of Brahma’s seven daughters would have to carry Brahma’s head, taking turns each year.
How Songkran began
This day of procession, where several other Hindu gods and goddesses would gather around Mount Kailash to celebrate the joy and prosperity of humans, became known as Songkran.
Thus Songkran has been celebrated for centuries as the day when people would sprinkle water over images of Buddha, bathe elders and other revered persons, splash water over each other and receive blessings from monks and It’s the day of giving and forgiving, which serves the exact same purpose as the Indian festival of Holi. The Thai version of Songkran is simply a Buddhist hybrid version of the Indian version of Holi.