The History and Tradition of Songkran
Deriving from the Sanskrit 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 orbits. And the Grand Songkran Festival which falls in 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 blooming flowers, the fresh atmosphere of nature and the livelihood of all living creatures.
No-one knows the exact year that people started celebrating Songkran, but as it derived from Hinduism, we can project that the festival might well be thousands of years old. The history of the festival’s traditions originated from the prayers and blessings of Buddhist Monks, which saw ancient traditions of visiting the local temples and monasteries to give food offerings to the monks.
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 delightful colorful local entertainment, which in fact, suitably unites the mutual relationship between members of the family, society, nature and the surroundings. Therefore, this Songkran Festival has proved to be the most important and grandest festival of the year. Moreover, our neighboring countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Lao PDR. have also organized this type of festival.
During the Sukhothai period, the Songkran Festival was practiced both in the royal court palace and among the ordinary citizens. However, the size of the celebration was not as elaborate as of today. Back in those days, civil servants and other government officials would pay homage to the king and would drink the oath of allegiance to the king or the government, while the king would provide an annual salary to all officials. Later on in the Ayutthaya period, the festival was expanded by including the bathing of the Buddha image.
Also, the festivities would include the forming of sand pagodas and entertaining celebrations. In the Rattanakosin period, the rituals have been conducted in a similar pattern as those during the Ayutthaya period.
Before the celebrations, people will clean their houses in the hope of casting away any bad luck of the old year, so that good fortune will slip into their new lives instead. Food and sweets will be prepared in advance for merit making and for treating guests.
In some northern rural areas, explosive sounds and loud noises will be made to chase the ghosts away. Candles will be lit and piles of wood will be burned in front of the houses on New Year’s Eve to shine the way for the spirits, which old people believe will come out of their places on that night.
The Songkran celebrations will begin with food presentation to the monks who will walk along the streets in the early morning to receive food and other offerings. But some people will take food to the monasteries nearby for the monks.
After the food giving, the merit will be transferred to the ancestors by pouring water onto the ground or a tree. In big cities like Bangkok or Chiang Mai, the most revered Buddha image will be carried in a procession along the streets to an open space for people to sprinkle water on to show their veneration.
One of the activities for young people to do is to convey their best wishes to their elders by pouring water on them or their palms. After this, it is time for children and young people to have the full enjoyment of water-throwing, dancing, and folk games. As the main activity is water throwing, the Songkran Festival is called the Water Festival by many foreigners.
A true highlight of Samui’s event calendar, Koh Samui takes Songkran as “seriously” as the rest of Thailand – a deluge of good-spirited fun, best experienced up-close, in-person and without reservation. Whether you’re coming specifically for Songkran or just have lucky timing, here’s everything you need to know to come prepared and enjoy every minute of the Thai New Year: The Ultimate Guide to Songkran on Koh Samui 2018