For those visiting Thailand around mid-April, there is another side to the world’s largest water fight that is definitely worth your time. Contrary to these modern methods of celebrating Songkran, the festival remains deeply entrenched in tradition and ritual.
Scholars are quite sure of the fact that the celebration began with the Tai people, some of whom still reside in the northern reaches of Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. The general consensus among academics is that Songkran was most likely a kind of ceremony to celebrate the New Year. After a time, it is thought that the Brahmin priests introduced the methods of celebration we traditionally associate with Songkran today.
Traditions of Songkran Day By Day
Songkran derives its name from the Pali word, Sankhara found in Buddhist scriptures which refers to the path of the sun in relation to the signs of the zodiac, in this case Aries to Taurus. The word evolved into Sangkan in Thai, and later changed to Songgran in Thai pronunciation or Songkran as we now know it.
Over four days of festivities, Songkran officially begins on April 13 with each day focusing on different activities and traditions.
13 April – Wan Sangkhan Lohng: On this day residents clean their houses in preparation of the New Year’s festivities and the Chiang Mai Songkran parade. This procession involves the passing of revered Buddha images and parade floats through the streets of Chiang Mai province.
14 April – Wan Nao: In preparation for the Buddhist celebratory merry-making the following day, people spend this day preparing cooked meals and preserved cuisine. Buckets of sand were commonly collected and brought into the temples to construct sand chedis, or sand shrines that are then decorated.
15 April – Wan Payawan: As the first day of the New Year, people would gather in the early morning at the wat to offer the food prepared the previous day along with new robes, fruit and other goods to the temple monks. In the past, this was the day where subdued water play began.
16 April – Wan Paak Bpee: On the last day of Songkran, people paid their respects to their forebears and poured scented water over the hands of their elders who would then bless those taking part in the celebratory tradition known as rod ‘naam daam hua’.
Songkran’s humble beginnings in ritual and folk tradition have since evolved (perhaps devolved) into a frenzied water fight involving thousands of litres of water every year. The streets teem with people carrying buckets and water pistols of all kinds, and some even ride into the fray atop painted elephants trained to splash water on unsuspecting individuals.
No one is immune from the festivities and fun that can be found at Songkran, not even those participating in the parades aboard floats making their way to the official residence of the Chiang Mai Governor. Time has given way to newer ways of celebrating the New Year and though many of these traditions are still practiced throughout the temple districts in Songkran, it remains impossible for you not to get soaked during the four days of celebration.