Songkran: Thailand's New Year Water-Throwing Festival
Thailand celebrates its traditional New Year, called Songkran, in mid-April with a three-day-long festival featuring many events from April 13th to 15th every year. The main activity is the water-throwing frenzy that continues throughout the daylight hours of the three-day period. It grips the whole nation, especially in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai where the festivities last even longer.
The Origins of Songkran
Originally, Thailand's New Year Songkran celebrations included gently sprinkling water on the shoulders and the back of the neck. This ceremonial gesture was often performed by Buddhist monks at the temples during Songkran as a ceremonial cleansing and blessing. As mid-April is the hottest time of year in an already very hot country, it was a welcome and refreshing gesture, filled with New Year good wishes and religious significance. It's still a religious festival with most Thais going to the temples and taking part in prayers and rituals.
As time has passed, Songkran, at least in the larger towns and cities, has evolved (some would say, degenerated) into a very different scenario. Finger bowls for sprinkling water on friends and family are few and far between these days. They have been replaced by buckets, water hoses and high-powered, colourful plastic water rifles, and all-out assaults on anyone within striking range, but still accompanied by cries of "Happy New Year" (Sawatdee Pi Mai) or "Happy Songkran". So the sentiments haven't changed, just the method of delivery.
Most visitors and tourists to Thailand are happy to join in and can be seen blending in with the locals, completely drenched, but giving as good as they get; unless, of course, they're stuck with a camera in hand, in which case it's all take and no give.
The Unwritten Rules of Engagement
There are still a few common sense limits in place. Old or disabled people and Buddhist monks and nuns aren't targeted, apart from young novice monks who go out in pick up trucks, fully armed and ready for battle. Street food vendors, too, are generally safe from the mayhem, and standing next to one of their stalls gives some brief respite, Anyone else, regardless of race, rank or gender is a potential target; even the police are fair game, which explains their virtual absence from the streets during this period.
While it's impossible for you to keep dry if you venture outside, you can keep your valuables safe and dry thanks to waterproof pouches for wearing around your neck. These are on sale everywhere wherever water is being thrown around. Keep your money, phone, passport and anything else you want to keep dry in them. If you're carrying a non-waterproof camera, put it in a plastic bag for when you're not taking pictures. Even when taking pictures, it's a good idea to keep the bag around the camera with just the lens exposed.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
While fun and excitement are the order of the day, or three days to be more exact, there are calls to limit the festivities. Injuries to drivers and pedestrians from traffic accidents are significantly higher during this period of Songkran, especially among motorcyclists suddenly blinded by a deluge of water thrown in their face. Some people feel that three days is far too long and look forward to a return to normality. Others feel that the religious significance of Songkran has been all but lost among the frenzy of water-throwing.
However, these calls for moderation have been heard for years yet have had little, if any, effect. Songkran's festivities continue unabated and look set to continue like that indefinitely.
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