Happy New Year! Sawasdee Pii Mai Kha!
It’s time for a fresh start – what better way to wash away last year than with a citywide water fight?
Thailand’s traditional New Year festival, Songkran, has gained a lot of attention from the traveling crowd in recent times. Scenes of bright colored shirts, plastic water guns, and water being thrown at whoever walks by have become as well-known as the festival of Holi in India or La Tomatina in Spain.
Chiang Mai is undoubtedly the best place to be for Songkran, where a mix of traditional Buddhist practices and modern watergun warfare give you the ultimate Thai festival experience. But before you let loose dumping buckets of ice water on strangers, let’s take some time to understand the cultural background of this fun holiday!
On April 12 a unique celebration is held for the anniversary of the establishment of Chiang Mai city. The morning starts with prayers, giving alms to monks, and a performance/flower laying for King Mengrai as a sign of appreciation and respect for founding Chiang Mai city.
Giving alms to monks can be done any day of the year, but there is a special merit to be made by doing so during Songkran – a great way to start the year off right.
The Tung is the traditional flag of Lanna Buddhist rituals. There are many styles of flags, but the specific banner used for Songkran has images of the twelve zodiac and is a type of offering to Buddha. If you have the opportunity to make a ‘tung’, the merit you accumulate will ward off bad spirits and help clear your path of obstacles for the upcoming year.
Sand Chedis are built at most temples during Songkran, as a way to replenish the sand that is carried away on visitor’s feet throughout the year. As a family-oriented merit-making practice, this is another opportunity to engage in welcoming a New Year full of good fortune. This particular tradition is only practiced during Songkran and can be seen at various temples in Chiang Mai including Wat Jed Lin, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Lok Molee, Wat Phan Thao, and Wat Phan On.
Bathing of Buddhist Relics is a more commonly known tradition of Songkran. As a time of refreshing and cleansing, Thai families will cleanse their Buddha statue and religious images by gently pouring water over them. Additionally the Buddhist Relic from each major temple in town will be paraded through the city while locals throw rose-fragranced water in an attempt to help symbolically cleanse the image. Fragrant water is also gently poured over the hands of elders as a sign of respect. In Chiang Mai, the parade is along Thapae Road to Ratchadamnoen Road, ending at Wat Phra Singh.
Songkran is definitely a refreshing break from the intense April heat, so enjoy your celebrations as you welcome a new year of good fortune and blessings!