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Sopping Wet for Songkran!

AUSTRALIA | Saturday, 24 April 2010 | Views [1042]

Songkran is Thailand’s most celebrated festival – the passing of the traditional Thai New Year. Even though Thais now celebrate New Year on December 31st, the astrological calendar is still recognized and is a public holiday. Beginning on the 11th of April and continuing through until the 16th, Songkran has many practices, both ancient and modern.

Thought to be an adaptation of India’s Holi festival, during which participants throw water and dye at each other, Songkran derives from Sanskrit, meaning the new solar year. The festival used to be contained to the northern areas of Thailand until the 20th century, when it spread everywhere. However, the largest and most famous celebration of Songkran is held in Chiang Mai, where I was lucky enough the take part in its festivities.

Anyone can participate in Songkran - you do not have to be Thai or Buddhist. Traditionally, the New Year was a time of cleansing, which is what the water throwing symbolizes. Many Thai’s also thoroughly clean their homes at this time.

In an extension of the cleansing theme, Buddha images from monasteries in the area are paraded through the streets so people can throw water at them. This ritual “bathing” of the religious images is thought to bring the bearer good luck for the New Year.

My involvement in the celebration was to buy a big water-pistol and get soaked while trying hard to soak others. Little children and elders alike would beam at me as I either gently splashes a handful of water on their shoulder, or staged an all-out offense against them.

The whole city was closed for the holiday, with the streets lined with spectators of the parade, buckets of ice, water pistols, hoses and huge blocks of ice. It was one huge, drenched street party!

Since it’s the hottest season of the year, copping a drenching is more of a blessing than a hindrance and all the businesses that do stay open will happily usher you inside to eat a meal, use the internet, and even get a massage.

Another belief associated with Songkran is the ancient idea that mythical serpents brought on rain by spouting water from the seas. The more they spouted, they more it rained, so a connection could be made from the note-too-distant past when Thailand was largely an agricultural society to a rain-making type of celebration.

No matter what the beliefs, customs, or reasons behind the festival, it is definitely a great time to be in Thailand – a way to cool down, celebrate with the Thai people and learn about their culture first-hand.

Sawas bee mai! (Thai for Happy New Year).

Tags: buddhist, culture, new year, water

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