While Songkran has become, for many, three days of wet and wild mayhems, the origins of this annual celebration are anchored in ancient beliefs.

Although Thailand recognizes, and heartily celebrates, the same New Year’s Eve observed by almost every nation across the globe on December 31st, the “real” New Year’s celebration in this country occurs in mid-April, during Songkran.

 

Traditionally, Songkran is a three-day annual holiday that begins on April 13th and concludes on April 15th. However, some regions of the Kingdom, such as Chiang Mai, stretch the festivities out a few days longer. But regardless of how many days everyone’s getting off work, the prime directive during Songkran nowadays is to have fun and get wet! In Bangkok, the street scene along both Khao San Road and Silom Road is one of pure watery mahem, as hordes of tourists and locals alike engage in what is probably the biggest water pistol battle in the world. And some revellers aren’t content to just use water pump-action water rifles, arming themselves instead with high-pressure hoses that can douse a crowd in seconds flat. But it’s all good fun, and the party atmosphere is irrestitable.

 

History of Songkran

 

The regions of the Mekong region- Thailand, Laos, Yunnan, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Vietnam- share an affinity for water that goes beyond their geographic link to one of the world’s mightiest rivers. This relationship to water dates to over 1,000 years ago, when the peoples of this region first began forming city-states centered in river valleys along the Red River in southern China and northern Vietnam.

 

Whenever principalities sprang up, waterways natural and man-made served not only as sources for nutrition, bathing, agriculture, and transport, but as important cultural adjuncts.

 

The most important festival in this entire region is the celebration of the solar-lunar New Year, when the sun passes in the zodiac, called Samkranta (“fully passed over”) , pronounced “Songkran” in Tai-speaking cultures. This festival demands that people take a few days out of their normal work schedules for spiritual cleansing and renewal.

 

Believers hold that during this short period, April 13th-April 15th, the spirit of the previous year departs and a new one arrives. Hence, on the first day of the people, people would give their homes a thororugh cleaning to welcome the New Year spirit.

Water, representing the principal agent for this cleansing, and renewal, plays a central role throughout the festival. The faithful will pour water over the hands of older Buddhist monks, and at home will perform the same ceremony for elders in the family. Although the original meaning of the water festival is kept alive by traditional celemonies such as these, nowadays its also very much a festival of fun. In most of the Mekong region, April is the height of the hot and dry seasonm and residents revel in being able to douse one another with water to cool off, with this year being an especially hot one!

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Apart from a liberal dousing of water, Songkran-goes can also expect to have their cheeks smeared with din sor pong, a natural white powder made primarily from limestone clay which, when mixed with water, forms a paste like substance. During the festival, many people carry small bowls of the chalky goop, smearing each other’s cheeks and foreheads with the paste and smiling and laughing all the while.

 

Though the splashing of water defines all Songkran festivities, celebrations in each locality have their own charmingly unique characteristics, making the traditional Thai New Year a fascinating and varied experience.