Apr 10 2011

Songkran: What’s with the water and chalk?

Published by at 6:01 am under Songkran 2011


Songkran is the welcoming of the new year, which is celebrated in the last period during which farming is dormant before the rains come.

Splashing monks in Luang Prabang

Splashing monks in Luang Prabang

Traditional songkran celebrations focus on the renewal of the earth and the home. Wats, homes and Buddhist statues are cleaned. Often, the statues are removed from their wats and paraded around their communities, allowing everyone the chance to make merit by washing them with water, which Buddhists believe will help them achieve a higher ranking in the celestial order when they are reborn.

Water that is used to wash a Buddha image is considered to bring good luck, so it is collected and carried back home to wash the hands and bodies of respected older relatives and friends. When Thais marry, water is poured over their hands, representing abundance and bounty. Ritual water is called nam om, and is perfumed with flowers or essences.  Today’s tradition of throwing water at each other is a direct descendant of these earlier, and slightly more gentle rituals. As it comes during the hottest part of the year, when the fields are panting for moisture, a blessing for abundance and bounty is most welcome.

You're next!

You're next!

Anointing with powder is likely a cultural legacy from when Buddhism arrived in Thailand from India and Burma. Indians of all religious backgrounds use powders to mark different religious blessings; Thai monks often mark blessings on houses and vehicles with chalk. Thais believe that being marked with scented chalk brings good luck and protection.

Time to put the camera away

Time to put the camera away

If these same blessings and protections are provided by soaking an unsuspecting child with a bucket of ice water and a blizzard of chalk is debatable, it is nice to know that the teenagers who just unleashed a garden hose on you were doing it out of benevolent kindness.

Tomorrow: Songkran: What happens at the wat?

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One Response to “Songkran: What’s with the water and chalk?” ...

  1. […] 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 lesser publicized […]

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