What can you expect at Songkran apart from lots of water fights? Well combined with the traditional and modern activities, the traditional Songkran makes for a pretty entertaining and packed affair all around. The Thai New Year lasts for three days from April 13 to 15, although the biggest Songkran festival in Chiang Mai lasts for six days or more.
The First Day of Songkran
On the first day, locals have a ‘spring cleaning’ and burn their rubbish so they can destroy every bad thing from the previous year. Many Thai cities hold the Nang Songkran parade where images of Buddha are carried on floats and paraded through the streets so people can dash water on them and ritually cleanse them.
The float everyone looks forward to seeing is the Songkran angel. This angel represents the daughter of a jealous Thai God (Brahma) who cut off his own head when he lost a gambit with a young man (Dhammaban). The sitting position of this angel and the animal she rides on is dependent upon when the New Year starts. For instance, if she is sitting reclined on the back of a buffalo and has her eyes closed, people know that the Songkran day will begin past midnight.
A Traditional Songkran Temple Fair
The Second Day
In the evening of the second day of Songkran, people go down to the local river, stream or water body to gather sand, which they bring to the Buddhist temple for the ritual of raising the temple grounds. This usually happens on April 14.
Women and children use the sand to build small pagodas. Then they buy joss sticks (for incense), flowers and flags from merchants in the temple as a way of making merit and to use for decoration. At home, locals are busy cooking meals for the next day’s traditional ceremonies.
April 15 is Songkran Day, the first official day of the New Year. Locals dress up in new, traditional Thai costumes with leis of jasmine at dawn. They then proceed to the temple and offer food, new robes and other gifts to the monks. Donation bowls sit in a row on a long table and people place boiled rice, fruits and prepared food in them.
Families cleanse the Buddha images in their homes by sprinkling perfumed water from silver bowls. Young people pour scented water into the palms of elders as a sign of respect. The elders then rub water along the sides of the youths’ heads to grant them blessing for the New Year.
During Songkran, deceased relatives are also remembered. At the temples monks perform a religious service at the place where crematory ashes are placed.
As well as the traditional rituals, the modern water fights are everywhere. So if you get drenched, don’t be surprised. Keep a cool head, as the Thais would say, splash back and wish everyone Suk-san wan Songkran!