Thai streets come alive mid-April as the country celebrates its Buddhist holy day by spraying each other with water. Songkran is Thailand’s most important festival. Here are some things you need to know about it.
1. It’s celebrated on Buddhist New Year in mid-April.
Unlike other countries that celebrate it in the New Year on January 1, in Thailand the trend is different. Songkran, or Thai New Year, is the most important Buddhist festival.
The celebrations take place between April 13 to April 15.
Derived from Sanskrit, Songkran means "Astrological Passage," and marks the movement of the sun from Pisces to Aries. Initially, the dates for the festivities were set by Brahmin priests, but now the dates are fixed.
Songkran marks the end of a 12-month cycle and ushers in a new solar year. The dry season ends and the annual rains in the fifth month of the Thai lunar year begin.
2. It’s a day of prayer and devotion.
The day begins with a visit to a local temple. People pray and take part in cleansing rituals. Idols of Buddha are washed with scented water for good luck and prosperity, a ritual Buddhists call “Song Nam Phra.”
Cleansing with water is an integral part of the festivities as Song Nam Phra also signifies purification by washing away one’s sins. Offering food to the Buddhist monks and paying tributes to the dead is a common practice.
3. Thais celebrate in unique ways.
In South Thailand, the tradition is not to lie, hurt people or animals. In the north, gunfire and firecrackers are burst to ward off evil while in the central parts of the country people set cows, buffaloes and birds free.
4. Families get together.
It is the longest public holiday in the nation and Thais get together with their loved ones. Many who live away, return to their family homes for the festivities.
Homes are cleaned and traditional food is served . Water is sprayed on the palms of elders to seek their blessings.
5.It’s a time for parties, parades and pageants.
It’s party time in Thailand. Young and old get together to douse each other with water.
Traditional parades focus on the legends behind Songkran in some parts of the country, and elsewhere beauty pageants, live music and folk dances are held.
6. Tourists love it and they flock in.
The festival is becoming increasingly popular and attracts tourists from all over the world.
If you are in Thailand during Songkran expect to get wet and have fun!
"It's indescribable, it's amazing. You come out, you get in the tuk-tuk and you start having a water fight with the elephants," said British tourist, David Gray said.
7. Elephants join the party.
One of the most popular places to celebrate this festival is the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya where elephants are part of the celebrations. They are decorated with different colours and spray water over people.
8. Songkran this year will be a subdued affair.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej passed away in October last year and many are still mourning his death. Some events this year have been cancelled and police in the capital, Bangkok, have barred drinking at certain places.