Monday, April 14, 2008

Celebrating Songkran in Thailand

April is the month of the Songkran festival (April 13 - 15)

Deriving from the Sansakrit language, the word “Songkran“ means to pass or to move into. In this context, the meaning implies to the passing and the moving of the sun, the moon and the other planets into one of the zodiacal orbit. And the Grand Songkran Festival which falls on the Aries indicates the new era of the Thai New Year.

Owing to the ancient Indian belief, the Grand Songkran Festival is most appropriate to be the Thai New Year due to the timing of the best season which is known as the spring of India which comes right after the cold season of winter. Also, there are other aspects supporting this belief such as the blooming flowers, the fresh atmosphere of the nature and the livelihood of all the living creatures.

With the great influence from the Indians, the Songkran Festival portrays the typical ways of life of the Thais which involve the agricultural aspects. Free from their regular routine work, the Thai citizens will find time to perform their annual rites of showing respect to their ancestors. The highlight of the festival will include the younger Thais paying respect to their elders by sprinkling their hands with scented water. And in order to welcome the New Year, the celebration will include the delighted colourful local entertainment which, in fact, suitably unite the mutual relationship between members of the family, the society, the nature and surrounding. Therefore, this Songkran Festival has proved to be the most important and grandest festival of the year.

"Wan Chai"(the day of offering)
On this day, apart from preparing new dresses to wear, people will make desserts to offer to monks and to give to friends and relatives. This act of generosity is also a way to show off each familys cooking skills.Well-to-do families will make a large amount of desserts to give away to others. In the past it was not possible to buy desserts since everyone made their own. Nowadays, some Thais follow western traditions by buying and giving cakes to others, as it is more convenient to do so rather than cooking.

Offering food to monks
On the dawn of the first day of the incoming year, people will prepare the best varieties of food to offer to monks. They will also dress up in their best attire. After giving alms bowl to monks, monks will eat the offered food in a temple hall. People will go home after monks finish their meal.

Making sand pagodas
There is no specific date for making sand pagodas. It can be done on any days close to Songkran in temple grounds or on riverbank. People in Kamphaengphet province also make offerings to monks on riverbank. People in Nakhon Si Thammarat build their sand pagodas twice; first in a temple on the last day of the outgoing year, and then in the grounds of their houses on the first day of the incoming year. Sand used for building pagodas is often taken from riverbank.

Releasing birds and fish
This tradition began long time ago and it is normally done during the Songkran festival. Before the festival, the weather is usually very warm and there is not enough water in ponds and rivers for fish to dwell, as a result, people will go out to catch fish in dry ponds. Small fish which can not be eaten will be kept at home until Songkran when there is more water, and then they will be released back to their natural habitat.
This tradition has evolved over time and is widely practiced nowadays. At present, in addition to fish, people also free birds as an act of merit-making.

Bangsukun Atthi
Apart from releasing birds and fish, there is also a ritual performed by monks to the relics of the dead in order to pass on merits to them. This ritual is known as Bangsukun Atthi. It will be performed once during the Songkran festival on any of the three days. In the past, Thais did not bring ashes of the dead back home, but the remains were buried under the Bodhi tree in a temple and monks would be invited to perform the ritual there.This ritual is believed to be local and is not influenced by Indian traditions because the Indians usually discard ashes in water source, especially into the Ganges.
In some areas in Thailand, people also perform a rite to worship guardian spirits of the village and town. In Central Thailand, household choirs such as gathering firewood and fetching water are prohibited during Songkran, and these choirs must be done beforehand.

Song Nam, Rot Nam, and Sat Nam
To bathe a Buddha image, people will first make an offering of flowers, candles, and incense sticks to the image. Then they will sprinkle lustral water signifying bathing onto the image as a gesture of respect.
A procession of the Buddha image will be made prior to the bathing. After that people will also bathe a Buddhist monk, usually the chief monk, by pouring over him lustral water. The chief monk will change to the new robe offered to him by laymen, then he will give a sermon and bless people who attend these bathing rituals.
Besides, people will also call on elders and respected ones to ask for their blessings.After that, people will play by splashing water at one another. A feast in the temple grounds will follow. Traditional desserts will be served there.
The Songkran festival is very much related to water, since people believe that water splashing will induce abundant rainfalls in the incoming year. Water is also a symbol of fertility and is used to clean up bad things. As a result, water is used widely in different ceremonies and rites of passage.

Rod Nam Dam Hua
People in Northwest Thailand conduct the bathing ritual to the elders and respected ones on New Years day. Apart from flowers, candles, incense sticks, and new clothes, betel nuts, Acacia water, and traditional perfume are also part of the gifts presented. Betel nut is a symbol of respect and hospitality. In the old days, Acacia water was used as soap. Once the elders receive the gifts, they will sprinkle the Acacia water and the perfume on top of the youngs heads to give them blessings.
Nowadays, some people still bring their new clothes and personal belongings along with other ritual objects, such as banana, sugarcane, and jackfruit leaves, to the temple so that Buddhist monks can sprinkle them with holy water in order to purify the clothes. These clothes and objects will be kept untouched for days for auspiciousness.

Ready to get wet

Known as the 'Water Festival', The hallmark for the festival, of course, has long been the tradition of water throwing. Everything from a courteous sprinkle or polite splash to a well-aimed bucket helps participants articulate the good-natured festival fever. It's a practical and mostly welcome solution to the sweltering dry season heat.
However, there's a much deeper meaning to Songkran beyond getting drenched. Most Thais in fact head home for its duration, to enjoy a break punctuated by religious ceremonies amongst family.
For them it's a time to express thanks to those they respect, loyalty to ancestors, an awareness of family and social responsibilities and their religious devotion - as well as get wet.

Everything from Buddha statues in streets to temples and houses gets a renewing wash; meanwhile anything old or unused is thrown out (believed to bring bad luck).
They perform bathing rites for monks, and engage in pious activities like giving alms, Dhamma practice and listening to sermons to rinse the spirit clean, to wash away the previous year's bad actions.
They sprinkle water on parents and elders, and shower them with gifts.
Thais believe that bad luck or evil is washed away by water, the person purified, and the pouring of a small amount of holy water on another person's hand or shoulder, confers respect and goodwill. Elders in return wish the youngsters good luck and prosperity.


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