Songkran (Thai New Year) is one of, if not the most important holiday in Thailand. When most people think of Songkran, images of the “World’s Biggest Water Fight” in Bangkok come to mind. There is however, another side of Songkran that takes place in the smaller rural areas. In the smaller communities Songkran is celebrated in a more traditional manner, honoring traditions that are hundreds of years old. Songkran is a time when Thais prepare spiritually for the new year, and honor those who have passed from this life. It is a time of renewing friendships, a time of family’s gathering together in celebration.
Each year during Songkran there is a mass exodus from Bangkok, as Thais either travel, or return home to be with their families. Although a large number of Bangkok residents travel abroad during Songkran, the vast majority travel home to rural Thailand for the holiday. Those Thais that live in Bangkok out of necessity, to earn a living, look forward to being able to spend time with their families.
Songkran is a 3 day holiday, and unlike some 3 day weekends where leisure time is a priority, it takes at least 3 days to get everything done that takes place during the holiday. Although the order of events may change from year to year, and by location, the following is what usually happens during Songkran where I live in rural Thailand.
Songkran 2017 Day 1
Day one of Songkran in Nakhon Nayok is dedicated to prayer at the local temple. Thais are strong believers in karma, so it makes sense to start any big event by praying and giving alms to the local monks. The act of giving is called “making merit”. It is important to store up as much merit as posable, to help ward off evil, for help in hard times and to keep in good spiritual and physical health.
Songkran 2017 Day 2
Day two in Nakhon Nayok is dedicated to a large community celebration at the temple. Although the important events start around noon, participants usually arrive early in the morning. Villagers prepare and enjoy breakfast and lunch while spending quality time with friends and family. There is also merit making by giving a meal to the monks as was done the day before.
Around 12:00 a large bell is rung and a traveling band in the back of a a truck starts to play, signaling the start of a procession around the ordination hall. Villagers walk and dance around the hall three times for good luck. All the while the truck band is leading the procession playing loud traditional Thai music. When the procession is finished it is time for the water blessing.
The water blessing is really what Songkran is all about, it gives us those images of hundreds in the streets spraying each other with water in the larger cities, elephants spraying water on tourists and all the rest. The traditional way of blessing with water is done with kindness and respect. Water is poured over the hands and sometimes shoulder of the blessing’s recipient while wishing the person good luck, health and a prosperous new year. With the water blessing the giver makes merit, and the receiver is given good luck. It’s really such a simple thing, water is cleansing, refreshing, symbolic of starting the new year fresh.
Another part of Songkran is honoring and paying respect to departed relatives. Ashes of relatives are temporarily removed from the their burial stupas, and a ceremony is performed by local monks. Devotees pray and ask the departed for blessings and help with their daily lives.
Songkran 2017 Day 3
An aspect of Songkran which is sometimes observed in rural Thailand is building sand stupas. The meaning behind building a sand chedi is to honor the sand that has been carried out of the temple or grounds on members shoes. In years past this was a day long activity. However for the last two years this part of Songkran has been minimized to just a few hours. Building a sand stupa is also a great way to build community.
I have been fortunate enough to spend five years documenting Songkran in rural Thailand. My images of Songkran 2017 can be found here: Songkran 2017 and from past years here: Songkran in Rural Thailand.