The Songkran Festival is also known as the water festival and the new year festival. Regardless which title is used, the event, which takes place in mid-April every year, is the most important and celebrated event for the Thai people.
The word Songkran stems from a Sanskrit word, and literally means “to pass” or “to move into”. What this translation references is the change in the position of the sun from Aries to Taurus. Since this time marks the beginning of spring according to the Buddhist solar calendar, the festival primarily bears agricultural significance.
The central theme throughout Songkran is water; and the throwing of water has deep religious and traditional roots:
The festival begins each year with people visiting monasteries and giving food to the monks, followed by pouring scented water over the monks, as part of a cleansing ritual. Historically, believing that the poured water becomes blessed through this process, people would then collect such water, bring it back to their families and friends, and pour it over one another as an act of purification and washing away’s one’s transgressions and bad luck. It is also a common practice to sanctify water by pouring it on Buddha statues.
The epic water gun battles that place in the streets of almost every city in Thailand during Songkran are a more contemporary interpretation of the “throwing of water”. Young and old enjoy and partake in those street celebrations as they hope for good health and fortune in the new year. Chiang Mai is known for the largest and longest Songkran celebrations. Here, the festival lasts six days (as opposed to three days almost everywhere else). The Chiang Mai Songkran celebration in 2011 was recorded in the Guinness Book of Wold Records as “The Largest Water Gun Fight in The World”.
Whether Thailand’s Water Festival is celebrated more quietly in the traditional way, or in the contemporary and wetter way, it is a colorful and joyful experience that offers insight into the Thai culture and hospitality.
However, visitors to Thailand during this holiday who don’t want their clothes to be soaked, should avoid the streets and sidewalks. During Songkran, only transportation in a closed vehicle may guarantee a dry arrival at one’s destination.