Apr 05 2011

Songkran: History and background

Published by at 1:07 am under Songkran 2011

Every  year from April 13-15 the entire country of Thailand (and neighbouring Laos) breaks out into a no holds barred waterfight. As a foreigner or outsider Songkran can appear to be nothing more than a nationwide party, but there is real history behind the soaking wet mayhem.  What has become buckets of water thrown from every which way began as a gentle sprinkling of water to symbolise luck and renewal.

April 13, Songkran, marks the celebration of the Thai New Year. The observance of New Year in April, rather than January, is a custom adopted from India’s ancient Brahmins who considered the passing of the moon, sun and other planets into the zodiac sign of Aries to be the start of a new astrological year or  “Songkran”, a Sanskrit word implying ascending or moving on.

Everyone celebrates Songkran

Everyone celebrates Songkran

Natural changes such as animals coming out of hibernation and buds and blossoms suddenly springing to life added to this feeling of a new start and a new year. Celebrated by everyone, including the Thai Royal family, Songkran falling in April is also tremendously convenient for Thai life as this is a month when farmers are free from routine duties allowing them the time needed to perform this annual rite, which involves the deeply important task of paying respect to their ancestors and elders.

The scope of Songkran has ballooned over the centuries. Songkran festivities during the 13th century involved civil servants paying homage to the king and government by drinking an oath of allegiance. During the later Ayutthaya period celebrations included bathing images of the Buddha for good luck, building sand pagodas at local temples and comparably low-key festival merriment.

Could the ancient Brahmins have anticipated what Songkran would become? I’m going with no. But while it may appear that all of this is happening out of nowhere there is real history behind these traditions. So as you are doused with water thrown from the window of a vehicle moving at high speed, just keep in mind that by traditional standards you are being cleansed and welcomed to the new year, even if by your standards you are just having a bit of fun.

Keep on smiling

Keep on smiling -- even in Laos

As they say, Sawasdee pi mai. Happy New Year.

Tomorrow, how to prepare for Songkran.

10 responses so far

More still
» Previous post:
» Next post:

Travelfish.org always pays its way. No exceptions.

Tags: , ,

Agoda logo
best price guarantee

10 Responses to “Songkran: History and background” ...

  1. […] Songkran was traditionally the time when Thais poured water on statues of Buddha to refresh and clean them, and then captured that water to pour on their elders as a sign of respect. It's a time of renewal and reflection, and of looking forward to the rain that comes soon after the New Year is properly celebrated. Houses are cleaned, Buddha is given a good scrubbing, and everyone goes to the temple to make plenty of merit by giving food and supplies to the monks. […]

  2. […] blink of an eye. If you keep your wits about you and make smart decisions there is no reason for Songkran to be anything but an absolute blast. Merely remembering mother’s advice and using common sense […]

  3. […] the New Year with a gigantic water fight might seem like the best idea ever, but sometimes our inner curmudgeon says "get off my lawn, you […]

  4. […] would've had enough drenching to last a lifetime. Apparently this is not the case… The dangerous Songkran water festival is responsible for upping the road toll once every 12 months as the Thais drunkenly celebrate the […]

  5. timinphuketon 11 Apr 2011 at 7:01 am

    Sonkgran is quite restrained here in Phuket – unless you choose to visit Patong of course.

    I would advocate visiting a temple in the early morning with the people who still remember what Songkran actually represents – THEN visit the towns where the world’s biggest water fight is.

    Always a pleasure.

  6. […] the past few days we've written a lot about what to expect during this infamous Songkran holiday. The water and chalk, the washing of the Buddha, the nationwide merriment. But there are a few […]

  7. Finalizing trip details, and good news « My Travelson 13 Apr 2011 at 9:38 pm

    […] unfortunately, it means that unless I leave for Thailand today or tomorrow, I’ll be missing Songkran, the Thai New Year water festival. Oh well, it’s certainly not the end of the world! And it means the chances of me being […]

  8. Finalizing trip details, and good news! « My Travelson 13 Apr 2011 at 9:48 pm

    […] unfortunately, it means that unless I leave for Thailand today or tomorrow, I’ll be missing Songkran, the Thai New Year water festival. Oh well, it’s certainly not the end of the world! And it means the chances of me being […]

  9. […] My source for Songkran history: http://www.travelfish.org/blogs/bangkok/2011/04/05/songkran-history-and-background […]

  10. […] bars are quite seedy – use your discretion. The biggest party of the year is in mid-April during Songkran – the Thai New Year holiday – when the whole mall breaks out into an indoor water fight. […]