Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Thai Culture & Festivals: Songkran

Thailand's famous Songkran festival is widely celebrated and marks the start of the Buddhist New Year. The date of the festival was originally set by astrological calculation to coincice with the vernal equinox, but it is now fixed and runs from the 13th to 15th April.

Songkran used to be celebrated only in the north of Thailand and it is believed that it was brought there by the Burmese, who adapted it from the Indian festival of Holi. It spread across Thailand in the mid 20th century and is now observed even in the far south. The festival is also celebrated throughout South East Asia. In Laos it is known as Pee Mai Lao, in Cambodia the locals refer to it as Chaul Chnam Thmey and in Myanmar it is called Thingyan.

Songkran was traditionally a time to pay your respects to village elders, including family members, friends and neighbours. People celebrating Songkran would also visit the the local temple to pray and give food to monks.

Ritual cleansing of Buddha images from household shrines and at temples, using fraganced water, was also an important part of the celebrations. Buddhists believed that doing this will bring good luck and prosperity for the New Year.

Particularly for younger people, the emphasis these days is on fun and water-throwing, rather than on the festival's spiritual and religious aspects. They walk the streets with water pistols and buckets or drive around in pick up trucks drenching each other and passersby. The most famous Songkran celebrations are in the northern city of Chiang Mai, where it often continues for six days or longer!!!

Unfortunately, there is also a darker side to the festivities. It is over the Songkran holiday period, that Thailand experiences its highest number of fatal road trafiic accidents, caused mainly by drunk drivers.

In recent years there have been calls to moderate the festival to reduce the number of alcohol-related incidents and to focus on the religious and spiritual meaning.

Between the 12th and 15th of April this year, over 300 people were killed in road accidents.

Details of this very sobering statistic and further commentary can be found on the website of the Nation newspaper......

http://www.nationmultimedia.com/home/Songkran-road-toll-ends-at-361-30127403.html

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