Among the many Thai festivals of the kingdom, the Songkran Festival or the Thai New Year has been regarded as the most important festival in Thailand . Due to its seemingly interminable traditional practice by all Thai people, the government has recognized its importance and has consistently promoted this festival by announcing the Songkran Festival, a three-day period. as a national public holiday. and as the Family Day. Thus, enabling Thai citizens to reunite with their families and have an opportunity to perform "merit making" at their respective temples. Moreover, those from different parts of the kingdom are motivated to retum home to celebrate this festival by performing ritual ceremonies with their families.

Meaning and History

Deriving from the Sanskrit language, the word "Songkran" means to pass or to move into. In this context, the meaning implies to the passing and the moving of the sun, the moon and other planets into one of the zodiacal orbits. And the Grand Songkran Festival which falls in Aries indicates the new era of the Thai New Year. Owing to the ancient Indian belief, the Grand Songkran Festival is most appropriate to be the Thai New Year due to the timing of the best season which is known as the spring of India that comes right after the cold season of winter. Also, there are other aspects supporting this belief such as the blooming of flowers, the fresh atmosphere of the nature and the livelihood of all living creatures. With the great influence from the Indians, the Songkran Festival portrays the typical ways of life of the Thais which involve agriculture. Free from their regular routine work, the Thai citizens will find time to perform their annual rites of showing respect to their ancestors. The highlight of the festival will include younger Thais paying respect to their elders by pouring scented water onto their hands. And in order to welcome the New Year, the celebration will include colourful local entertainment which, in fact, suitably unites the mutual relationship between members of the family, society, nature and the surroundings. Therefore, this Songkran Festival has proved to be the most important and grandest festival of the year. Moreover, the neighbouring countries such as Myanmar , Cambodia and Laos have also organised this type of festival. Since the old days during the Sukhothai period, the Songkran Festival was practised both in the royal court and among the ordinary citizens. However, the size of the celebration was not as elaborate as of today. Back in those days, civil servants and other government officials would pay homage to the king, and would drink the oath of allegiance to the king or the govemment, while the king would provide an annual salary to all officials. Later on, in the Ayutthaya period, the festival was expanded by including the bathing of the Buddha image. Also, the festivities wquld include the forming of sand pagodas and entertaining celebrations. In the Rattanakosin period, the rituals were conducted in a similar pattem as those during the Ayutthaya period.

Legend of the Grand Songkran Festival and Songkran Angels

During the Songkran Festival, there is normally an announcement of the name of the Angel for the festival of the year, her vehicle, her food preference, etc. And in order to forecast the prosperity of that year, it is worth knowing the quantity of rainfall and the number of Naga who is responsible for the provision of water. According to legend, the story involved King Kabilaprom and Prince Thammaban. Born to a wealthy family, Prince Thammaban was very intelligent since he was only seven years old. King Kabilaprom asked him three questions with conditions that if his answers were correct, King Kabilaprom was willing to sacrifice his head but if they were wrong, the Prince must do likewise. And the questions focused on the good signs of a person at each period of the day from moming to noon until the evening.

To the surprise of the king, the Prince answered the questions correctly. The good sign of a person in the moming is at the face, at the chest in the noon time, and at the foot in the evening. The King then had to cut off his head as promised. However, the King's head was so powerful that the whole world would be on fire if the head touched the earth, that a serious drought would occur and that all ocean water would dry up should it be thrown up in the sky or down in the ocean, respectively. Therefore, the King assigned his seven angel daughters to take tums carrying his head clockwise around Phra Sumeru Mountain . And if Songkran Day (April 13 ) falls on any day of the following, that year would be honoured by that Songkran Angel.

Sunday: "Tungsatevee" , red dress, preferred wild fruit, discus in the right hand, shell in the left hand, garuda as a vehicle.

Monday: "Korakatevee", yellow dress with pearl ornament, preferred butter oil, dagger in the right hand, walking cane in the left hand, tiger as a vehicle.

Tuesday: "Ragsotevee", light red dress with agate ornament, preferred blood, trident in the right hand, arrow in the left hand, pig as a vehicle.

Wednesday: "Montatevee", emerald green dress with cals eye ornament, preferred milk and butter, sharp iron in the right hand and walking cane in the left hand, donkey as a vehicle.

Thursday: "Kirineetevee", greenish yellow dress with emerald omament, preferred nuts and sesame seeds, elephant hook in the right hand, gun in the left hand, elephant as a vehicle.

Friday: " Kimitatevee" , white dress with topaz omament, preferred banana, dagger in the right hand, Indian vina in the left hand, buffalo as a vehicle.

Saturday: " Mahotorntevee ", black dress with onyx omament, preferred hog deer, discus in the right hand, trident in the left hand, peacock as a vehicle. The prediction for the New Year would be made accordiflg to that particular day of the Songkran Angel. For example, if the preferred food of the Songkran Angel are nuts and sesame seeds, it is predicted that the year would be productive, prosperous and healthy. And if the preferred food is bJood, the prediction would go for a bloody year with quarrels. And if the Songkran Angel preferred to carry a gun, it is predicted that the weather would be full of thunderstorms, etc. Also, at the venue where the grand Songkran Festival is organised, a procession of the festival chosen represented the Songkran Angel is indispensable for the people to appreciate.

Merit Making on Songkran Day

Upon the arrival of Songkran Day, merit making rituals are similarly organised in every part of the kingdom. To begin with, in the morning there will be the offering of food to monks, later in the day is the time for bathing over the Buddha image and releasing birds and fish. Along the way, there will be delightful entertaining festivities. In the evening, the younger people will perform a special respect to the elders by pouring water onto the hands of their parents and grandparents. The elders in return, bless the youngsters for good luck and prosperity. The festival covers a total of three days. The first day being April 13 or the Grand Songkran Day, the day to mark the end of the old year. The second day being April 14 or Wan Nao, the middle day of fun and entertainment. And the last day being April 15 or Wan Thaloeng Sok, the beginning of the New Year.

Before the actual Songkran Day, purchases of relevant items will be made for the merit making on the next day. Besides, various desserts such as red glutinuous rice and sticky sweets will be made for the same purpose of merit making and for further distribution to all neighbours. On the Grand Songkran Day, prepared food and desserts will be offered to monks according to the tradition.

Also, the most revered Buddha image, "Phra Phutthasihing", will be brought out from the National Museum and placed on a throne. After being part of the procession around this area, "Phra Phutthasihing" will be located at Sanam Luang, opposite the Grand Palace, whereby the people will have a chance of paying respect by sprinkling lustral water over the image.

Moreover, another ritual is to bathe respected monks and pour scented water onto the hands of the respected elders. For the deceased, there will be a religious ceremony to offer merit to the ancestors. In the aftemoon, people will enjoy forming sand pagodas in the temple compound, releasing birds and fish, splashing water on eaCh other and participating in joyful local entertainment.

The Royal Songkran Ceremony

Back in the old days, the Royal Songkran Ceremony in the Grand Palace was organised to expel all evil incidences of the country on the last day of the old year. The main activities would involve a chanting of Buddhist sermons for three evenings and tonsorial ceremony for royal children. Thereafter, the New Year would begin with various prosperous events such as offering food to monks, meditating ceremony, merit making for the ashes of the late kings and royal dignitaries. In the evening, there would be a royal dinner, hosted by the royal family.

At the present time, there is only the Royal Songkran Festival by means ot a Buddhist ceremony. In the moming, the king would offer alms to the invited monks at the Grand Palace, bathe the important Buddha image at Suralaipiman Building, worship Phrasiamthevatirat, bathe the royal ashes and ashes of the highly revered monks, recite sacred Buddhist prayers and offer food to the monks. In the evening, the king would further bathe the Emerald Buddha, and other items worthy of worship in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and perform other relevant rituals before the end of the ceremony.

Major Songkran Festivals

Chiang Mai Songkran Festival
Being well known as the most favourable festivals of the country, Chiang Mai has organised this festival by dividing the event into three days by naming April 13 as the day marking the end of the old year. The activities involved on this day are to clean up oneself as well as the house and utensils, including bathing the Buddha images at home and at the temple.

April 14 is called Wan Nao, meaning the first day of the new year, whereby preparations for food and desserts will be made for the merit making on the following day .In the evening, there will be a tradition of transporting sand into the temple and later on the formation of sand pagoda will be completed.

On April 15, Wan Thaloeng Sok, or the day marking the new era, the beginning of the New Year starts with early merit making at the temple, offering bowls of rice, flags, and poles and dedication for the soul of the ancestors which in turn will provide blessings and goodness for those undertaking these rituals. In the afternoon, a most traditional ceremony of water bathing over the elders will be conducted.

Moreover, the Chiang Mai local authorities will organise a procession of Phra Phutthasihing a revered Buddha image and of Nang Songkran. Other interesting activities to complete this festival! will include merit making and Buddha image bathing at Wat Phra Singha, local handicraft fair at Tha Phae Gate, worship of King Mahaprom, forming of sand pagodas at Wat Chedi Luang, local typical performances at religious sites and splashing of water on each other allover the city especially at the edge of the Ping River.

Phra Pradaeng Songkran Festival ( Samut Prakan Province )
One of the most reputed festivals of the Thai-Man community, the Phra Pradaeng Songkran Festival normally takes place on Saturday and Sunday after the regular Songkran Festival. Besides the normal rituals of merit f!1aking, Buddha image bathing, and releasing of birds and fish, the Nang Songkran float procession is one of the most spectacular events of this festival. Also, visitors will have the opportunity of experiencing a very unique local game of " Saba ", whereby the participants, both male and female, will dress up in their Thai-Mon costumes. The location of this game is preferable at the ground floor of each home in the area. And for those who are looking for the fun of water splashing, this festival is a must as this actMty is widely practised in almost every comer of the streets in Phra Pradaeng.

Wisut Kasat Road Songkran Festival ( Bangkok )
Being held for over sixty consecutive years, the Wisut Kasat Road Songkran Festival has been organised by the community of Wisut Kasat Road . The celebration of the festival will be conducted for only two days which are April 12 and April 13. Starting frbm April 12, a revered Buddha image will be brought from Wat Trithotsathep by a procession to the festival ground whereby the people will be able to bathe the image for their prosperitY. In the evening, entertainment performances will be organized to commemorate the event. On April 13, monks from various temples will be Invited to receive food offenngs. Also, the highlight of the festival will be the competitions of ladies beautifully dressed at the merit making ceremonies and of Nang Songkran.

Khao San Road Songkran Festival (Bangkok)
Recently organised by the community of Khao San Road, this joyful festival has attracted tremendous amounts of intemational tourists mainly staying on and around the Khao San Road area. The major activities of the festival include merit making, food offering to the monks, Buddha image bathing, local entertainment, traditional performances and the most attracting water splashing tradition which has been freely practised here at this site.

Eastern Region Songkran Festival
The difference of this festivai from the others IS the duration of this festival Which falls around April 16 or Aprit 17-19, and it is known as Wan Lai. One of the most popular welt-known Wan Lai festivals in the eastem region is held at Pattaya, Chon Buri province and Isnormalty organised on April 19 of each year. The major activities wilt include the traditional ceremony of pouring scented water onto the hands of the elders, a Wan Lai procession, and the most entertaining of alt is the water splashing among the Thais, foreign tourists, and the focal people. Moreover, another nearby area is at Bang Saen, Chon Buri. There is another long herd tradition of forming sand pagodas on the Wan Lai, a tradition of the Saen Suk community, foltowed by the regular ritual of inviting monks from every temple in the Saen Suk area for various religious ceremonies such as merit making, Buddha image bathing and later on enjoying focal entertainment.

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