POSTCARD #202: CHIANG MAI: Impossible to not notice Songkran here, Thailand’s New Year festival, “sawat deepee mai”, Songkran begins today, 13 April 2016, in the Buddhist/ Hindu solar calendar. It’s also New Years day in many calendars of South and South East Asia. Songkran is the water festival, the act of pouring water is a blessing and good wishes. Before the festival begins, everything old is got rid of or it will bring the owner bad luck. Time to let go of bad stuff, ‘should auld acquaintance be forgot for the sake of auld lang syne.’ Wash away misfortunes in the past year, and welcome in the new year and a fresh start.
Thai people usually try to go back home and see their parents or their old relatives at Songkran. A tradition of bathing elders and asking for their blessing is part of the festival. Now I’m seen as a harmless old guy so I don’t get water thrown at me; a very small amount of blessed water is gently poured on my shoulder, or I sometimes get to sprinkle jasmine flower soaked water on the youngers who kneel and pray for fortunate circumstances in the coming year. All Thais go to temple in the morning and make merit by either giving alms to the monks or releasing birds, fishes or turtles from captivity – good deeds and the karma of it all.
But it’s mostly about water and the release from hot summer days. For young Thais and foreign tourists visiting here it’s a joyful water-throwing free-for-all. The streets are running with water to the extent that the Chiang Mai Government this year have started a small campaign to persuade the public it’s necessary to save on water. But not taken too seriously.
It’s also a time when people get reckless, accidents on the road the Bangkok Post today reports that so far, police arrested 20,094 people for drink-driving and 549 vehicles were impounded at checkpoints from 9 – 12 April. Owners of the impounded vehicles, 439 motorcycles and 110 cars, will be allowed to pick up their vehicles at police stations after April 17 when Songkran ends.