songkran สงกรานต์, संक्रांति

songkran2016POSTCARD #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.

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Thai New Year, Songkran

800px-Tuktuk_chiangmai_songkran_05bSONGKRAN, 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.

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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.

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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).

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Reference and photos, wikipedia page: Songkran (Thailand)