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Songkran - The Traditional Thai New Tear

Songkran is the first day of the Thai New Year and is a tradition that has been carried out continuously since ancient times. It is also a beautiful, national culture that is buried deeply in the lives and minds of Thais. It is a very old tradition in Thailand that has been passed down hand in hand with the New Year celebrations. So, it is known as 'Songkran New Year', which means the passing of the Old Year and the welcoming of the New Year. The word droot is a Tamil word that is used in Thai and which means 'end of the year'. The word Songkran is a Sanskrit word that is used in Thai and which means the 'movement' or 'relocation' of the sun from one sign of
the zodiac to another, and Songkran is the period of time that the sun moves from Pisces to Aries. This is held to be an important event because it is the day and time of the New Year in the beliefs of Thai people. Thai people have called this period of time Songkran for a long time now, and so Songkran is a tradition for celebrating the New Year according to the Thai calendar. Generally, the celebration takes placeover a period of three days from the 13th - 15th April. The 13th April is called Wan Maha Songkran, and it is held to be the day that the sun enters Aries and is the last day of the Old Year. The 14th April is called Wan Nao, and is the day
that connects the Old Year to the New Year. The 15th April called Wan Ta-leung Sok and is the first day of the New Year. These three days are held to be very important because the traditional celebration of Songkran reflects the intellect of our ancestors. It is a tradition that strengthens relationships in families and society, and it can be said that Thais have a 'family day' or 'elders day' too.

Songkran in the Four Regions
   
 In Thailand, Songkran is considered to be a religious ceremony of great importance that has the same meaning for everyone and takes place in every region.

      Songkran in the North (Songkran Laan Na) begins on the 13th April (Wan Sang Kaan Long). It is a day when  people spring clean their homes for good luck and prosperity. The 14th April (Wan Nao) is a day when people are forbidden to exchange abuses or argue because it will bring bad luck for the entire year to come. The 15th  April (Wan Payaa Wan or Wan Ta-leung Sok) is a day when people get up very early and give alms to the monks, and then go to the temple to listen to a sermon before calling on elders to receive blessings in the afternoon. On the 16th April, people travel to various temples to receive blessings from the abbot. The 17th April (Wan Paak Deuan) is a day when people help others in various ways in order to close the Laan Na celebrations.
         Songkran in Isaan (the Northeast) is normally a very simple affair but is full of warmth and meaning, with Isaan people calling the tradition 'The Fifth Month Religious Ceremony' or Droot Songkran. (Note: The first month in the traditional Thai calendar is December ; therefore, April is the fifth month.) The 15th day of the  waxing moon in the fifth month is held to be an auspicious day, and at 3 p.m., monks beat drums to usher in the new era. After that, folks prepare scented water and then gather together at a pavilion at the temple to pour water over a Buddha image, followed by visiting their grandmothers and grandfathers, relatives and other elders in order to receive their blessings. This is followed by the playful soaking of each other with water which is
a time of much merriment.
         Songkran in the South follows the traditions of the South and it is a period of time when fortunes must change. The people hold the first day of Songkran, 13th April, as Wan Song Chao Muang Kao by holding a  ceremony in which evil spirits are removed by the sprinkling of holy water on the heads of the people. On the 14th April, the citizens will make merit by giving alms at the temple, and pouring water over Buddha images. The last day, April 15th, is known as Wan Rap Chao Muang Mai, and a ceremony is held to welcome the new divinity by decorating Buddha images very beautifully, thus concluding the Songkran celebrations.
          Songkran in central Thailand begins on the 13th April and is called Wan Maha Songkran. The 14th is called  Wan Klaang or Wan Nao, and the 15th is called Wan Ta-leung Sok. During all three days, people hold religious ceremonies, there are various merit making activities like giving alms, freeing birds and fish from captivity into the wild, pouring water onto the ground to dedicate merit to relatives who have passed away, pouring water over the hands of monks, and transporting sand to the temple to build a sand pagoda.

General Activities on Songkran Day.
     In general, the activity that takes place in every region of Thailand is the giving of alms to monks in the  morning. This is held to be a creation of merit for oneself, and a dedication of merit to those who have already passed away, and is carried out by the giving of food to monks in the early morning. Water is poured over Buddha images at home and at the temple, and may be poured on monk's hands too. Apart from this, people  pour water over the hands or heads of elders while receiving blessings from them, kaan dam hua is a northern Thai phrase and is used only when referring to the pouring of water on and receiving of blessings from elders  that we respect and is a way of asking for forgiveness for our past offences, or a way of asking for New Year blessings from elders. Articles used in this tradition include bath towels, coconuts, bananas and oranges. The  pouring of water and requesting blessings from elders is a way of blessing the New Year for each other, and is carried out with elders that we respect, teachers, etc. We kneel in front of the person and pour scented holy water over their hands and they give us blessings in return. In another religious ceremony, we might take the ashes and bones of a deceased relative and shape them into a pagoda. Following that, a monk is invited to perform a ceremony using a yellow robe which covers the "pagoda" and is then removed by the monk during the ceremony. The release of birds or fish from captivity is held to be a way of cleansing ourselves of our past sins  and getting rid of bad luck, leaving just happiness and comfort. On New Yearūs Day, we build a sand pagoda or transport sand to the temple. In the North, it is a popular activity to take sand to the temple to acquire good luck, be happy and prosperous, and General Activities on Songkran Day have money aplenty.

Songkran in Ubon Ratchathani
     Ubon Ratchathani Province holds traditional Songkran ceremonies every April, and emphasises the Songkran water festival in accordance with the beautiful customs and traditions of Thailand, meaning that  colouring and powder should not be used in order to preserve the culture and promote the Thai tradition in perpetuity.
      This year, 2552 B.E., the offices of Ubon Ratchathani Province and Ubon Ratchathani Municipality together with the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Ubon Ratchathani office and the Association of Tourist  Businesses, Ubon Ratchathani have arranged Songkran celebrations and activities between the 11th and 17th of April 2009 in the roads surrounding the central park, Tung Sri Muang, as well as in the municipality of  Ubon Ratchathani. There will be many interesting activities, such as the worship ceremony, the bathing of  monuments, for example Phraphatum Warrarach Suriyawong (the first governor of Ubon Ratchathani), Phra Upali Khunuphamajarn (a famous abbot), Somdet Phra Maha Wirawong (a famous monk), the monument  at the Central Court, blessings given by the governor of Ubon Ratchathani and respected elders, the giving of alms to 99 monks, the Indo-Chinese food festival, the Songkran water łfightsū, the roadside flowers and  waterways, the Songkran Parade, the parade of the Phra Kaew Bussarakam Buddha image around the town in order that the general public have the opportunity to bathe the image on this auspicious occasion, the Songkran Beauty Queen Pageant, cultural roads, a singing competitions, and local arts and culture displays. In various other districts there will be many Songkran activities, each varying according to place.

  In addition to the above, there will be a special tourism project administered by Tourism Authority of Thailand, Ubon Ratchathani office together with the Office of Religious Affairs, Ubon Ratchathani and the Tourist Police Office, Ubon Ratchathani who have established a special tourism programme related to religion in Ubon Ratchathani called 'Visit Nine Temples by Sam Lor for Luck and Prosperity'. This will take place on Songkran Day, the 13th March this year. The purpose of the programme is to increase awareness of tourism related to religion and the traditional Thai New Year as well as to promote Songkran and the Thai-Indochina Food Festival. The tour will start from the grounds of Wat Sri Ubon Rattanaram at 1 p.m. and will consist of a procession of  30 Sam Lor (tricycle) that will lead those who are interested in taking part on a journey to nine temples in the Ubon Ratchathani municipality and will include the traditional hand-bathing ceremony of Songkran at the following temples : Phra Chao Yai Sri Muang, Wat Tung Sri Muang; Phra Kaew Komen, Wat Pa Noi; Phra Chao Yai In Plaeng, Wat Pa Yai; Phra Burapajarn, Wat Burapa; Phra Chao Yai Ong Der, Wat Tai; Phra Bot, Wat  Klaang; Phra Chao Yai Ong Luang, Wat Luang; Phra Sap Pan Yu Chao, Wat Suphatanaram; and finally
returning to Phra Kaew Bussarakam, Wat Sri Ubon Rattanaram.

Those who are interested can obtain further details and reserve seats at the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Ubon Ratchathani office telephone 045-243770, or the Office of Religious Affairs. Telephone 045-241027.
If you have yet to make plans for Songkran, we would like to take the opportunity to invite everyone to take part in the traditional Songkran celebrations in Ubon Ratchathani. The heart of Songkran is finding peace of mind through making merit and religion, cleaning up the environment, showing gratefulness to elders, and showing good wishes and favours to each other. if you intend to take part in the water łfightsū for your fun and enjoyment, you should consider your safety first as many unfortunate accidents occur every year. Therefore,  everyone should join in and have fun, but do so with carefulness in mind, continuing the wonderful customs and traditions of Songkran which are the high values of the core of the tradition, and good, responsible behaviour according to the Songkran tradition which is related to the spirit of being a good Thai.
 

Article By : Ajarn Worralak On-na-nai

Head of the Department of Arts & Culture Ubon Ratchathani Rajabhat University

 
 

 

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