Songkran is the Thai New Year festival which happens in April. This year it is 13-15 April.
The word Songkran literally translates as ‘astrological passage’ or ‘passage of time’. Although it is a traditional Buddhist occasion here in Thailand, as with many other religious occasions it has origins in an ancient festival. In this case the Hindu spring festival of Makar Sonkriti which was once celebrated in India around January time.
The astrological charts of Buddhism follow those of Chinese traditions and so April 13 will mark the Thai year of the Dog.
Living here means that we celebrate the actual new year, (Jan) the Chinese New Year (Feb) and now the Thai new year (April). We are well and truly refreshed and renewed by now.
Songkran is marked by family reunions, meals and celebrations with Thais often returning to their family homes in the countryside (which can clog up the roads) and a long weekend of public holidays.
People are encouraged to make merit by donating to their Temple. We celebrated at school with our own merit making ceremony last week. Monks from the local temple arrived at 7am and those who wished to participate gave dried foods or other necessities such as shaving equipment as monks are not supposed to own any worldly goods.
That day everyone in the junior school wore flowery shirts in bright, cheerful colours.
The items are placed into the alms bowl and then quickly removed by some sixth form helpers and bagged up. I gave some rice and instant noodles. I think that anything the monastery kitchens don’t use is distributed to the poor.
Everywhere in Bangkok we have seen special Songkran shrines. These have 7 Buddha statues one for each day of the week and you are supposed to pray to and donate to the statue for the day of the week on which you were born. This astrological observance is quite significant in Mahayana Buddhism.
So I decided to find out what this meant for me. I was born on a Saturday and I discovered that my lucky day is Friday (yay!) and my unlucky day is Wednesday until dusk (after that I’m ok). I am apparently calm, logical and likely to be engaged in physical work (shifting library books about all day is more physical that people realise). My lucky colour is blue (who knew) and my unlucky colour is green!
My Buddha statue is this one:
It is Siddhartha sitting in the full lotus position meditating whilst being protected from heavy rain by Naga the snake king who made a shelter using his multiple heads as a hood. Cool or what!
Kevin, born on a Friday just gets this ordinary seated one
The school parents put up a beautiful shrine for the festival
Floral offerings are often made at shrines using a small white flower which represents love. The flower is seen here kindly modelled as a necklace by one of my excellent readers from year 1
But Songkran is perhaps best known for its association with water. Water symbolises washing away the problems of last year and renewing/cleansing yourself in preparation for the year ahead. As such people pour water over each other. I have to say that I asked several people about the significance of the water and most thought it was just to keep cool as April is the hottest month of the year!!!!
In modern times the water purification aspect has developed into fully fledged water fights all over the city. All done with good humour and high spirits you can expect to be doused by water cannon until you are completely drenched!
This goes on for four days!!!
I shan’t be doing that bit. Water doesn’t go well with my dodgy ears or my hearing aids so we will be departing the country and leaving everyone else to that bit of the fun.
So we are off to Nepal next week. We got a tad worried when a plane crashed immediately after we had booked our tickets killing 50!!! But we aren’t going to let a minor thing like ‘country with the worst airplane security record in the world’ stop our adventures. Wish us luck!