Songkran Festival: The Thai Traditional New Year

“Songkran” is the Thai traditional New Year that referred to the beginning of the year in Thailand until 1888 that the 1st April was, instead, applied to begin the year. Thereafter 1940, the 1st January has been the Thai New Year up till now. The traditional Thai New Year, “Songkran Festival”, has been a national holiday since then.

Songkran Festival

The term “Songkran” comes from Sanskrit “Sankranta”, means “a move or change” or literally "astrological passage”. The meaning- this case, therefore, refers to the move of the position of the sun in the zodiac. Because the date of the New Year day in Thailand was calculated on the solar basis followed the traditional lunisolar calendar of Thailand. The position change of the sun into Aries, “Mesha Sankranti”, falls either on 13 or 14 April coincides with the Nirayama vernal equinox which marks the first day of the traditional Tamil calendar. Hence, Songkran falls on the same date as observed by most traditional calendars in India as in Tamil Nadu, Assam, Bengal, Kerala, Manipur, Orissa, Punjab, Tripura etc. not to mention Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Sri Lanka. Tropical vernal equinox generally falls around 22 March and, adding 23 degrees of trepidation or oscillation to it. Doubtlessly, Songkran falls in the hottest time of the year in Thailand, and at the end of the dry season. Thus, Songkran is also known as the “Water Festival” since the highlight of the celebration is to splash water to each other. People believe that water, does not only help cooling the day off but will also ash away bad luck.

Songkran Festival

The annual celebration of the festival is held nationwide, throughout the kingdom. However, the most famous Songkran celebrations are still in the northern city of Chiang Mai, where it continues for six days and even longer. It has also become a party for foreigners and an additional reason for many to visit Thailand for immersion in another culture.

Songkran festival is celebrated not only just religiously, but also is the occasion for the family reunion. As such, the celebration begins with early morning merit-making offering food to Buddhist monks and releasing caged birds to fly freely into the sky. Paying homage to one’s ancestors, friends, neighbors, and monks, is an important part of the day. People will pay their respects to the elders by pouring scented water over the palms of their hands. The elders in return wish the youngsters good luck and prosperity. In the afternoon, after performing a bathing rite for Buddha images and the monks, the celebrants both young and old, joyfully splash water on each other. In Bangkok, the Buddha image “Buddhasihing” is brought out from the Nation Museum for people to sprinkle lustral water “holy water” at Sanam Luang opposite the Grand Palace.

Songkran Festival

Nowadays, the joy and fun in throwing of water to each other is by  roaming the streets with containers of water or water guns (sometimes mixed with mentholated talc), or post themselves at the side of roads with a garden hose and drench each other and passersby. This, however, was not always the main activity of this festival.

The traditional greeting during the celebration of the festival is “Sawaddee Pee Mai”, basically "Happy New Year". Another greeting used is “Suk San Wan Pee Mai”, where Suk San means Happy. However, most people prefer “Suk San Wan Songkran” for "Happy Songkran Day".