Songkran is, of course, Thai New Year’s, but why is it celebrated in April, why do we splash water on each other during the occasion and what are all the other rituals involved in the tradition? Here’s all you need to know and more about Songkran.
Why does Songkran take place mid-April?
We all know Songkran takes place on April 13-15 every year, but these are actually arbitrary dates fixed by the government to simplify things. Originally, Songkran is dictated by the zodiac calendar, marking the occasion on which the sun enters into the constellation of Aries--which tended to fall on April 13 in the recent past, although these days it is indeed April 14! If you like playing around with complex mathematical formulas, you can look up and try the formula for commuting the actual day of Maha Songkran (the first day of the zodiac occurence) and Thaloengsok (the last day of the occurence, or the end of Songkran).
Merit-Making And Paying Respect
Don’t be fooled by all the fun fronting this holiday, religious belief and practices are at the crux of Songkran for Thais. Many will visit the local temple in the morning to give alms to monks and pour scented water on Buddha statues (song nam phra) for good fortune in the new year. You’ll even see mini merit-making stations set up in stores around Bangkok!
Songkran is also known as being a time to show respect to elders. Bangkok usually sees a noticeable exodus of people (except for the tourists coming in for the famous water fights, that is), as Thais return to their hometowns to visit their parents and other elders and perform the ritual of rot nam dam hua. Rot nam dam hua is the ritual of pouring scented water onto the palms and feet of parents and other respected elders, such as teachers, to ask for their blessings.
Why We Splash
As water is symbolic of blessings and good fortune in Songkran, Thais would playfully and lovingly offer gentle splashes of it to one another, elder or not, during the religious holiday--not to mention the sweet relief of cool, nice-smelling water during the most sweltering time of the year. Overtime however, due to the creative and playful nature of Thais, this tradition has come to involve water guns and has rebranded itself so to speak into the famous, sometimes infamous, water fights. While criticised by traditionalists, it’s undeniable that the water fights have put Songkran on the global map and made the nation an even more popular destination than it already is this time of year.
Other Rituals: Nang Songkran & Chalk
Nang Songkran (“Lady Songkran”) is a famous local beauty pageant that takes place during Songkran. Every year, the selected Nang Songkran in traditional Thai garbs will be paraded in local processions as is a symbol of fortune. Nang Songkran is based on a Thai folklore of the same name.
You may also notice that in addition to water, Thais offer each other a white power this time of year. This chalk derives from the chalk monks use to inscribe blessings.