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The Rites of Songkran
(Thai New Year )

At the Thai New Year there are rites and rituals that people participate in as part of the New Year blessings and Buddhist merit-making, One of these is the splashing of water. Water runs deep in the Thai New Year traditions, both as a symbol of cleansing and as a symbol of renewal. These days we tend to recognize the throwing of large amounts of water as the epitome of the Songkran festivities but is has always been the more delicate water splashing that represents the gentle nature of Songkran and the Thai New Year.

cleaning the buddha The family sprinkling scented water from silver bowls on a Buddha image is a ritual practiced by all Thais in on the third day of Songkran, known as Wan Payawan. This is the first official day of the New Year and on this day people cleanse the Buddha images in their homes as well as in the temples with scented water. The family is dressed in traditional Thai costume and wearing leis of jasmine flower buds. The water is scented with the petals of this flower.

sprinkling water In addition to the cleansing of the Buddha images a traditional Songkran involves the sprinkling of water by younger people on the older people as a tribute of respect and for blessings. This is much different from the water tossing we see on the streets and is a genuinely sincere event whereby scented water is poured over the shoulder and gently down the back of the person. While pouring the water in this manner, people utter good wishes and words of blessing for the New Year. The water symbolizes cleansing, refreshment of the spirit and all good things associated with life.

Related to the water pouring is the ritual of the tying of strings. This involves the tying of strings around the wrists of others and expressing good wishes for the New Year. When a person ties strings to another's wrist, it s a very important event. He or she approaches with a gentle smile and holds out the string by the two ends and then begins to tie. The person receiving the string has his or her arm outstretched with the under side of the wrist facing upward. While tying the strings, the person recites short prayers of blessing spoken directly for the individual.This is one of the most charming events of Songkran and it's one that you should show great appreciation for should someone approach you to apply the strings to your wrist. At Songkran a person could have as many as 25 or 30 strings on each Wrist each from a different person, and these are to be left on until they fall off of their own accord.

As part of the water sprinkling, water splashing and string tying rites, you may also encounter a person with a small silver bowl filled with a white powder or pasty substance. This is one of the oldest Songkran traditions. The white paste is a sign of protection and promises to ward off evil. The person with the paste is often older and he or she applies the paste to various parts of the face, neck and torso of others. One is expected to leave this paste on until it washes off of its own accord, and while there is a tendency to shy away from this paste because it looks like it might ruin the clothes, it is water soluble and will not harm materials.

There are other rituals and merit-making rites that people engage in at Songkran. In addition to the traditional cleaning of the home and bidding the old year adieu, these include making offerings to local temples and the monks. The offerings include preserved foods cooked dishes, fresh fruit and new robes for the monks. Also people build sand piles on the temple grounds and these sand piles represent personal pagodas built as part of the merit-making ritual.

The traditions of Songkran have a long history and are still observed in the Thai homeland of Sipsong Panna in southwestern China, in Laos and in northern Burma. Songkran or the Thai New Year, is actually the occasion of the passing of the sun from Taurus into Aries. It is a solar event and it marks the beginning of a new astrological year, and this is very important in Thailand. Songkran day always is April 13.

The Thai New Year celebration: always is held on April 12,13 and 14 officially but an entire week will be filled with fun in Chiangmai.

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Last modified on:  October 27 2013