SONGKRAN, the Thai New Year, takes place on Saturday 13 April 2013. The traditional greeting is สวัสดีปีใหม่ (sawatdi pi mai), “Happy New Year”. Most people say สุขสันต์วันสงกรานต์ (suk san wan songkran), “Happy Songkran Day!” The most obvious celebration of Songkran is the throwing of containers of water, mixed with talcom powder, and everybody gets drenched, including (and especially) innocent bystanders. It’s a fun time, the peak of the hot season.
People make New Year resolutions, pay respects to elders, family members, friends, neighbours. They go to the wat (Buddhist monastery) and offer food to monks. They cleanse the Buddha images from household shrines as well as Buddha images at monasteries by gently pouring water over them, mixed with a Thai fragrance (Thai: น้ำอบไทย). In Chiang Mai, the Buddha images from all of the city’s important monasteries are paraded through the streets so that people can toss water at them, ritually ‘bathing’ the images, as they pass by on ornately decorated floats.
Songkran is a time for cleaning and renewal and many Thais also take this opportunity to give their home a thorough cleaning. The throwing of water originated as a way to pay respect to people, by capturing the water after it had been poured over the Buddhas for cleansing and then using this “blessed” water to give good fortune to elders and family by gently pouring it on the shoulder. The water is meant as a symbol of washing all of the bad away and is sometimes mixed with fragrant herbs when celebrated in the traditional manner. The holiday has evolved to include dousing strangers with water to relieve the heat – temperatures in April can rise to over 40°C. Nowadays, the emphasis is on throwing water at everyone, rather than the spiritual and religious aspects, which sometimes prompts complaints from traditionalists.
Songkran is similar to the Indian festival of Rangapanchami, Holi, with the same splashing of water, colored powders, and fragrances. The festival coincides with the Tamil New Year, Puthandu, either on 13 or 14 April and coincides with the New Year of many calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Songkran falls on the same date observed by most traditional calendars in India as in Assam Rongali Bihu, West Bengal Pohela Boishakh, and in Kerala, Manipur, Odisha, Punjab, Tripura; also in Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Laos pee mai lao and Sri Lanka, Auruddhu. Songkran is also celebrated in Cambodia chaul chnam thmey, Myanmar thingyan, and by the Dai people in Yunnan, China (called Water-Splashing Festival).