Apr 12 2011
For 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 lesser publicized traditions that happen over these three days which add a little context Songkran. So let’s prematurely explain some of those strange scenarios that may arise during your celebrating.
Why does this stranger want to make me a bracelet?
Tying strings around the wrists of others is a way to express good luck and well wishes for the coming year. If someone approaches you wanting to tie a string around your wrist you should accept that gesture humbly and gracefully. Hold your arm out with your wrist facing the sky and the person will tie the string and recite a short prayer. Tradition says you must not remove the string until it falls off of its own accord.
What’s with all the sandcastles?
Tradition dictates that sand pagodas are to be built inside the property of each temple, or wat. As worshippers come to the temple during Songkran they bring with them a handle of sand. This sand is all gathered, and sometimes even brought in by the truckload, for people to start constructing pagodas. Inside the pagodas coins and money are inserted for good luck. Once completed the pagodas are decorated with flags, candles, joss sticks, shells, flowers and sprinkled with scented water.
The belief behind the sand pagodas is twofold. First, it is thought that by bringing sand into the temple compound worshippers are elevating the level of the property’s ground which is often too low during the rainy season. Second, it is believed that every time you leave the temple some sand remains on your shoes and is accidentally removed from the religious property. Bringing sand back to the temple is a form of atonement.
Why is everyone sweeping?
At the very beginning of the holiday, celebrators traditionally clean out their houses, shops, buildings, everywhere, to get rid of anything that was a negative influence over the past year. It is believed that if any of these bad objects or momentos are kept they will bring bad luck for the new year.
And how about those birds being set free?
Throughout the year and especially during Songkran, celebrators set caged birds free and let captive fish loose into rivers and streams. This releasing of the animals back to their natural habitats symbolizes the act of giving freedom and is a form of merit making.
And now you know.
Tomorrow: Songkran, where to go in Bangkok.
Travelfish.org always pays its way. No exceptions.