GemSelect: Songkran Festival in Thailand
Songkran was derived from the Sanskrit word "sankrānti" and also known to be one of the most celebrated festivals in Thailand. Songkran Festival is observed not only in Thailand, but also in Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia and Lao PDR.
Songkran festival marks the beginning of the Thai New Year, which is based off of the Buddha Era calendar rather than the Christian era calendar. The Thai New Year celebrated Sonkgran typically begins on April 13th and ends on April 15th, but lately, the festivals have been extending through April 16th.
The most popular and widespread celebration of Songkran includes what can be described as a 'Water Fight'. Both Thais and Foreigners play and interact on the streets with buckets of water, water guns and balloons. Some areas of Thailand celebrate more than others. For example, Pattaya and Bangkok are very fun, but Chiang Mai is the number 1 area to visit for Songkran. Small provinces like Chanthaburi or Trat usually only water fight for 1 day. You'll see many groups of westerners and Thais alike, station all over with garden hoses (and anything else that can hold water) drenching each other and anyone else that dares to walk by. Pick-up trucks drive slowly filled with gangs of locals in the bed, throwing water at everyone they drive by. The celebration is quite fun, but also at times, can be bothersome for those that don't want to get wet.
However, the throwing of water is not the main reason for Songkran. Songkran was traditionally a holiday set aside for paying respect to all those in your life, including family, friends, monks and acquaintances. The throwing of water is actually meant to be a symbol for cleansing one's self, but the traditional meaning is slowly fading and being forgotten by those who participate in the events.
It is also traditional for Thais to visit their local temple for prayers and to also give offerings of food and donation to the Buddhist monks. It also customary to gently rinse water on the statues and ornaments located inside the temples. This tradition is believed to bring good luck for the New Year. In many provinces, you will see parades of Thais carrying the Buddha images and ornaments from all over their city and from various monasteries,
The water throwing traditions stem from its use of paying respect and it was believed that by catching the water after it had already been poured over the Buddha status, it would be a purified 'holy water'. They would then use this 'holy water' for cleansing and to wish good fortune to their respected elders by gently pouring the water down on their shoulders.
Nowadays, it would seem the holiday has evolved into more of a reason to party and a way to beat the heat, especially since April temperatures can rise over 100°F or 40°C, but for Thai People, the know the real purpose and they hold onto this as a culture. For foreigners and those traveling through, emphasis remains on fun although some foreigners also pay homage by spiritual and religious actions as well.