Songkran Thai festival is the time of the year when everybody in Bangkok and throughout Thailand are launching bucketsful of cold water towards strangers while grinning uncontrollably. The whole concept of the festival stems from a Buddhist festival during which people were washing Buddha statues with water. If you can wash the Buddhas every year, why not wash each other, too?
Songkran Thai festival is celebrated each April across Thailand and other neighboring countries and is an opportunity for its citizens to take a few days off, to party, to sprinkle themselves cheerfully with water guns, buckets, plastic cups, or even using their hands as receptacles. Some also cover themselves in mud or in a paste made of water and chalk.
Between the 13th and the 15th of April, the entire country, including the capital, Bangkok, will grind to a halt while its inhabitants clean themselves from their sins.
The scene is also fun to imagine: in downtown Bangkok, on the subway or in the streets, people walk and drink beer, completely wet, as if they’d just stepped out of the shower with their clothes on. Enterprising merchants sell water on the streets for those who would like to reload their guns or water buckets.
And farangs (foreigners in Thai) are also part of the celebration. If Thailand is known for the excessive Full Moon Partys and other drinking events on the beaches, though only a minority take part, Songkran Thai festival is celebrated by everyone in the country, the oldest to the youngest, local and expatriates alike. Many Westerners organize their vacation around the festival.
In Thailand, a celebration is not without alcohol: beer, liquor “buckets” that are so well known in Thailand, and local whiskeys Sangsom and Hong Tong are consumed in large quantities. Moreover, this trend brings new dangers: several road accidents caused by drunk driving are counted each year during the festival.
April is one of the hottest months in Thailand and the south is terribly hot and humid; Bangkok city is suffocating and those who can’t take refuge in air conditioned space are happy to use this water to cool off.
The traditional side of the celebration takes place every year at Wat Pho, one of the largest Buddhist temples in the Thai capital.
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The legend behind the tradition goes as follows: a monk, responsible for cleaning the Buddha statues for the New Year’s Day, supposedly threw water on visitors by mistake. A great battle of water is said to have followed and the tradition remained since. Another version of this legend is as follows: since the young must respectfully water their family elders with perfumed water to give them luck and happiness, the younger members of the family, then, to tease, throw water at full volley and attack slyly; this tradition, over time, transposed to friends and to strangers. Obviously, these stories can’t be verified: many other traditions and legends accompany Songkran celebrations in Asia. Each ethnic group has its own!
One thing is certain: in several other countries, including Laos and Cambodia, water is used as a symbol to cleanse the minds of Buddhists who practice this tradition. Cleansing during Songkran, according to tradition, can bring luck, longevity, prosperity, happiness.
This festival is also known as the Thai New Year.
In several countries in the region – Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and even most of India – the dates between 13 and April 15 were the first of their traditional calendars, whether religious, political, solar, lunar and astrological. So we can say that South Asia as whole parties between the 13th and the 15th.