Ringing in the New Year… Thai style

The New Year has set in and most of us are still wondering how quickly 2018 has gone by. According to the Gregorian calendar (which is considered the standard, international civil calendar), New Year for the whole world begins on January 1 but certain cultures are an exception.

The Thai New Year or Songkran begins in April and not in January. Although officially, New Year is celebrated in Thailand on January 1, Songkran was the official New Year until 1888, based on the solar calendar. Celebrated sometime between the 13th and 16th of April every year, this festival is a traditional Buddhist celebration and a national holiday in Thailand.

The word Songkran is derived from the Sanskrit word Sankranti which means astrological passage. In Thailand, Songkran is celebrated when the Sun moves from one position (Pisces) to another (Aries) in the zodiac. 13th of April is considered as Maha Songkran as this is the first day of the sun’s astrological movement.

Indian readers will instantly find a connection in the Thai New Year Songkran and the Indian harvest festival Makar Sankranti that is celebrated in January, signifying the start of the spring season.

If you compare with India, the period when Songkran is celebrated in Thailand, you will find that certain parts of India celebrate New Year at the same time. Some cultures and communities in India follow the solar calendar and some follow the lunar calendar but still there are many who celebrate New Year along with the Thai folk.

Sangken in Arunachal Pradesh, Bohag Bihu in the state of Assam, Vishu in Kerala, Ugadi in Andhra Pradesh, Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra and Baisakhi in Punjab all mark the New Year for people in various parts and communities of India. Ugadi is celebrated in the first week of April but all the other festivals coincide more or less with Songkran and generally fall on 13, 14 or 15 dates of April each year.

A lot of tourists flock to Thailand for the Songkran festival and to participate in the well-known water fights that are held. Thai people believe that water is a purifying agent and can spiritually cleanse you of any bad luck. The origins of the water festival lay in the custom of collecting water poured over Buddha statues for cleaning purposes, and sprinkling it on villagers to bless them.

Eventually, this ritual turned into a full-fledged water fight, somewhat akin to Holi celebrations in India. Today, you will find cannon-sized water guns and pressure hoses in the streets that spray water on everyone, or should we say- bless you in abundance! But as temperatures In Thailand are really soaring in April, you might find water sprays a welcome relief from the heat. Children approach foreigners and wipe wet clay on their cheeks, wishing everyone a Happy New Year (just like Holi in India). This custom is similar to the act where monks used chalk to bless objects.

In Chiang Mai, tourists can witness a procession of Buddha statues. This place is said to be the epicenter of Songkran celebrations and some of the wildest water festivities. Night life is very popular too. There will be huge crowds and a lot of traffic so if you want to be there for Songkran, make sure you reach and find accommodation in the Old City well in advance.

Large scale festivities take place in Bangkok, Phuket and other tourist places as well. If you prefer calmer, religious celebrations, head to Isaan in the northeast of Thailand. Songkran is also celebrated outside Thailand in Laos, Burma, Cambodia and some other parts of Southeast Asia.

No matter where in Thailand you are or what age group you fall in, you cannot escape the festive fervor of Songkran and water fights that go on for days. Make sure you keep your phones, laptops and passports back in your bag and away from all the water being splashed. Although the festival is officially for three days, people take off from work and turn it into a week-long celebration.

Just like any other festival, Thai authorities have put in place certain rules and regulations for people to enjoy the festivities safely and to prevent any accidents. As a tourist, it is important that you follow them and not cause harm to anybody- that means No misuse of the means provided or any type of rivalry

If you are visiting Thailand during the New Year, don’t plan any sight-seeing or visits in the Songkran week as you won’t be able to make it. Get drenched while having clay smeared on you and dancing your heart out on the streets instead.


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