Songkran: A Festival Soaked in Tradition
Published on: April 13, 2022
While splashing water often seems to be the highlight of Songkran for many of us, Thai teacher Kru Smuk talks about some of the lesser known ways that the festival is celebrated across Thailand.
By Kru Smuk
In April, many people are excited about the Songkran Festival, which is considered the Thai New Year and celebrated from 13 to 15 of April each year. It’s thought to be one of the biggest water festivals in the world, where people gather and have fun by splashing water on each other at the hottest time of the year.
Meaning: to move forward
Besides the water party, Songkran is full of traditional activities, many of which reflect Thai values and culture. Let’s explore some of them together.
Family Gatherings and Traditions
Songkran is a public holiday, so during this period, many people take the opportunity to return to their hometowns and spend time with their family members. My family always meets on the 13th at our great grandparents’ house to cook, eat, and celebrate together. It’s that time of the year when we catch up and share our life stories.
Thai people believe in cleansing and purifying our lives with water. We pour jasmine water on Buddha statues as we believe this will clean away bad luck for the coming year. Also, in some families, companies, or schools, we invite seniors in the community to sit down for us so that we can pour water on their palms and ask for blessings. This reflects the Thai value of respecting our seniors.
สรงน้ำพระ (song naam phra)
Meaning: to pour water on the Buddha
รดน้ำดำหัวผู้ใหญ่ (rod-naam dam hua puu-yai)
Meaning: to pour water on the hands of seniors
As April is one of the hottest months of the year in Thailand, we mix natural talcum powder with water and gently apply it to others’ faces. This talc works as a sunscreen to protect the wearer from UV rays.
ปะแป้งดินสอพอง (bpa-bpaeng din-soor-pong)
Meaning: The act of putting talc on faces
In smaller communities, the temple is the center of the community and the venue for many activities. During Songkran, a temple fair takes place. It involves food vendors and games, as well as a traditional Thai dance known as รำวง (Ram Wong). Gathering together in celebration is an important part of Thai culture.
Meaning: Temple fair
As mentioned above, throughout the year, Thai people visit temples. We believe that during these visits to the temples, some dirt and sand sticks to our shoes. During Songkran, we bring back the sand we took away. Many people donate a bag full of sand, which is then used to carve different shapes and forms of pagodas. By doing this, we demonstrate our belief in the importance of gratitude (บุญคุณ).
ประกวดก่อเจดีย์ทราย (bpra-guad goor je-di-sai)
Meaning: Sand carving contest
Later on, the donated sand is used to renovate the temple where local activities take place, making this activity a way to give back to the community.
Last but not least, there is a beauty pageant for women and girls hosted during Songkran. Dressed in traditional Thai costumes, contestants give a performance that includes an activity such as a traditional Thai dance, playing a musical instrument, or singing. But the key is demonstrating a beautiful, elegant, and polite personality.
This tradition comes from the folk story of the seven ladies of Songkran, or นางสงกรานต์ (Nang Songkran) as they are known in Thai. Each of the Nang Songkran represents one of the seven days of the week. The Nang Songkran corresponding to the day that Songkran falls on each year provides a prediction of the country’s situation and fortune in the coming year according to her personality and preferences as told in the folk tale.
So, as you can see, Songkran celebrations are not only about water fights and parties, but also involve many other interesting and beautiful traditional activities. Happy Thai New Year!
Photo from Canva.
About the Author
Kru Smuk runs an online Thai language school (BananaThai). She is a Thai teacher as well as the host of the “Learn Thai GluayGluay Podcast” on Spotify and Youtube to help foreigners learn Thai in the most flexible, enjoyable, and effective ways. Visit bananathaischool.com and get started with Thai language.
The views expressed in the articles in this magazine are not necessarily those of BAMBI committee members and we assume no responsibility for them or their effects. BAMBI Magazine welcomes volunteer contributors to our magazine. Please contact email@example.com.