We are participating in the world’s wettest festival — the Songkran Water Festival — celebrated annually on April 13, which extends to April 15. This celebration is important in particular to the people of Thailand, and most countries of Southeast Asia, as it represents the start of a New Year. This festival is a three-day observance, kicking off with thorough spring cleaning on ‘Maha Songkran’, and climaxing on ‘Wan Payawan’ — the official New Year’s Day. The New Year festivities are typically marked by merit-making, water fights, and visits to the temple, although different parts of Thailand have their specific rules of celebration.
History of Songkran Water Festival
Months after the rest of the world has celebrated and gotten over the New Year festivities, the people of Thailand usher in their traditional New Year with the most interesting ways of celebration. Songkran is a national holiday in Thailand that marks and celebrates the start of a new year in the Buddhist calendar. This is also the time when the sun moves from the Pisces zodiac sign to Aries. This day is not just a cultural affair for the people, but also a historical and religious observance that presents an opportunity for a fresh start.
According to Buddhist scripture, it all began with the death of sage Kapila Brahma, who was beheaded after losing a bet with a child called Thammabal. Every year thereafter, when the sun entered Aries, one of his children and accompanying angels would perform a procession that included different postures that have now become part of the lunisolar calendar. This procession was known as Maha Songkran to distinguish it from other zodiac movements around the sun.
The word ‘Songkran’ means ‘transformation’ or ‘change,’ and is a definition the people of Thailand take literally when celebrating the festival. It marks an opportunity for a fresh start and new beginnings, and throughout the three days, observations are tailored to that effect. The first day, Maha Songkran, is celebrated by the cleaning of homes and public spaces, pouring of scented water onto the bodies of Buddha figurines, as well as the beginning of water-throwing festivities. Following that is ‘Wan Nao,’ which is celebrated through merit-making activities like offerings to monks and temples, and visiting the elderly. The final day of the celebration is New Year’s Day itself, and is reserved for further offerings, solemn reflection, and other events around good luck rituals.
Songkran Water Festival timeline
Kapila Brahma lives during this period, and his death is traditionally said to mark the beginning of the Songkran festival.
The New Year's celebration in Thailand is moved to April 1.
The New Year date is moved officially to January 1, with the traditional holiday, Songkran, declared as a national holiday.
The Thai government officially extends the holiday to five days, from April 12 to April 16, to accommodate travel.
Songkran Water Festival FAQs
Why do they pour water to celebrate Songkran Water Festival?
The Songkran Festival ushers in the new Buddhist year, which also heralds an opportunity for a fresh start and new beginnings. Water is the symbol of purification, and the pouring of water is seen as the cleansing of old transgressions and the start of something new. This is why scented water is poured on the torso and body of Buddha figurines.
Are Songkran Water Festival celebrations restricted to only citizens of Thailand?
Although this festival holds cultural, religious, and historical relevance to the people of Thailand, its celebrations are not restricted to just the Thais. Many people plan vacations to Thailand around this time to get in on the fun. So if you find yourself in the region during this period, be ready to get wet, get marked with clay, and get carried away by the festivities.
Do I have to get splashed with water at the Songkran Water Festival?
The short answer is yes! If you want to stay dry, the best option is to stay home. Monks, police officers, officials, and the aged are the only individuals exempt from the water-pouring festivities. So if getting wet will get you grumpy, do not ruin the fun for others, and stay away from the streets of Thailand at the time.
Songkran Water Festival Activities
Have a water fight
The people of Thailand celebrate this day with nationwide water fights. If you find yourself in the country during this period, prepare to get soaked, and make sure you dress up with that in mind. However, if you aren’t in the area, today will be a nice day to gather your friends and family around for a friendly game of water fighting. Get your armor ready — water guns, balloons, and buckets — and get ready to battle.
Visit a Buddhist temple
Regardless of how fun and exciting this holiday may seem, it is also very spiritual and religious for many. One of the main goals of this holiday is merit-making which is done by visiting temples to offer food and other offerings to monks, giving alms, and self-reflection. Take some time out in these three days to visit a Buddhist temple closest to you and meditate on the year ahead.
Put on a clay mask
‘Wai’ is a mixture made from clay, specifically white talcum powder and water, and applying it is one of the ways to celebrate Songkran. During this period, on the streets of Thailand, you would observe a lot of people, particularly children, who have parts of their bodies covered in clay. They also make it a mission to get everyone in on the action by putting some on you and wishing you a happy new year. You can participate from the comfort of your home by including some skin-friendly clay masks in your beauty routine today.
5 Facts About The Songkran Water Festival
It ushers in the rainy season
The Songkran Water Festival also marks the end of the dry season and the beginning of the rainy season.
White strings are of value
Tying white strings on each other’s wrists and reciting a prayer is an expression of good wishes.
Night and day are equal
During Songkran, the sun enters Aries and the length of night and day becomes equally split and is known in Thai culture as the supreme cycle.
There’s a pageant
The crowning of Mr and Miss Songkran is an important part of the Songkran celebrations.
Not all water is acceptable
The rules of the Songkran celebration prohibit the use of dirty and ice-cold water.
Why We Love Songkran Water Festival
It’s a double celebration
As we mentioned earlier, the official date for the new year in Thailand was moved to January 1, which is the same date when most of the world celebrates. However, this has done nothing to alter the significance of Songkran as it is still celebrated as a national holiday. This presents two reasons to celebrate, and offers double the fun!
It’s a fun holiday
Songkran Water Festival is a fun holiday. This nationwide public holiday is packed with exciting and interesting activities that everyone can be a part of, and what’s more exciting is that it lasts for three whole days!
It’s a chance for a water fight
Who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned water fight? No matter how old we get, we never get too old to have some fun with water, and that’s what makes this holiday so much fun. It gives us a unique opportunity to make a splash and relive our childhood memories.
Songkran Water Festival dates