The Songkran festival is celebrated in Thailand as the traditional New Year’s Day. While astrological calculations originally determined the date for Songkran, it now takes place from 13 to 15 April every year – the same time as New Year’s celebrations in many other calendars across Souteast Asia.
The throwing of water is the most famous aspect of the Songkran celebrations today. All over the country, people roam the streets with water containers and water guns to ‘battle’ each other. Some just stand in front of their homes with hoses and wait to soak anyone who passes by. A welcome refreshment, since April is one of the hottest and most humid months in Thailand.
Despite all the fun, there is a different reason for this custom. It stems from the associated ritual of spring cleaning. After cleaning images of Buddha, the same water was used to soak people in order to bless them, pay them respect and bring them good fortune.
However, the soaking is only half the fun. You are likely to get covered all over in chalk, as well, since it was used by monks to mark blessings. The combination of water and powder is very similar to India’s Holi. It might even be the case that Songkran originated from India as the closer Northern part of Thailand celebrates the event more intensely.
An additional way of physical cleaning on Songkran is to throw away old and useless items that may bring bad luck. Apart from this, people usually make New Year resolutions as a method of spiritual cleansing.
The Origin of Songkran
The name Songkran (Thai: สงกรานต์, pronunciation: [sǒŋ.krāːn]) is derived from Sanskrit, the primary liturgical language of Hinduism. Its literal meaning is “astrological passage” denoting the passage of the sun from one sign of the Zodiac to the next. Knowing this, it becomes apparent that there are actually 12 Songkrans each year. The one in April is when the sun enters the sign of Aries. It is sometimes called Major Songkran as it is culturally more important than the other ones.
The April Songkran used to be closely related to the Vernal Equinox on which the New Year was celebrated in the past. Although the two events take place on different dates today, they were closer to each other in ancient times. This difference in the dates was caused by the wobbling of the Earth on it’s axis over a 25,000 year period (procession effect).
Songkran was the official New Year until 1888, before it was started to be held on 1 April every year. Since 1940, Thailand’s official New Year is celebrated like in most other countries on 1 January. Despite this change, Songkran celebrations are still present in April and enjoy great popularity with locals and tourists alike.
Songkran 2016 will take place from 13th – 15th April 2016.
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