by Ushmi, Co-Director, IHF Chiang Rai
I chuckle to myself as I write about “Thailand’s biggest festival of the year” because I’m sure I have declared this in at least two previous blogs. Perhaps the Thai do celebrate whole-heartedly, like there’s no tomorrow, like it should be the biggest festival. But this time, it really was “Thailand’s biggest festival”….
The traditional Thai New Year is celebrated from April 13th to 15th. A Sanskrit word meaning the travel of the sun from one Zodiac sign to another, this is the major ‘passage’ where the sun enters Aries the Ram, the first astrological sign in the Zodiac.
It was only until 1940 that January 1st became the official day welcoming the New Year. Tradition however remains fervent in Thailand. Songkran is therefore the biggest festival of the year.
‘Thousands have lived without love, not without water’ ~ W. H. Auden
Traditionally, the occasion is commemorated through the washing of Buddha statues. This holy water is then poured unto the public as a symbol of purification – blessing the soul and washing away all misfortunes, hence beginning the New Year a fresh.
With time, more and more people joined in the celebration. And being the hottest period of the year, it developed into a festival- an explosion of water from buckets to garden hosepipes and even water guns. During these three days people setup from morning to dusk, stationed outside homes, shops and restaurants. From blaring music, to the aroma of Thai barbeques and a continuous shower of water, it is an experience worth travelling for.
Pai duai (can I go with you)
On April 13th 2015, we- IHF Co-directors- set off to experience our very first Songkran with the children. Appearing at the street famous for Songkran celebrations in Chiang Rai, and with no expectation, it was an overwhelming site indeed. The first thing I saw was a pickup truck full of people throwing buckets of water on everyone on the streets. My eyes then registered the wider picture: people were dancing with water guns in hand, motorbikes zoomed past trying to dodge water attacks and those brave enough to walk the street were attacked, no doubt, every 20 meters. That was going to be us.
It was an atmosphere like none I have witnessed- no anger, no hatred, only joy, love and blessings shared. Water was sprayed from everywhere on everyone, from young children to the elderly, everyone participated in this festivity. Pickup trucks and tuk tuks would let passersby hop on if there was space and join the convoy, like a water army. People even geared up in army suits with bulletproof vests, equipped with water guns of all sizes.
If you light a lamp for someone else, it will also brighten your path
As well as the fun of it and the refreshing feelingin the scorching sun, there was a somewhat sacred sensation in the interaction between strangers. The act of pouring water on each other was received as a blessing. There was no culture difference, no nationality barrier… all was one