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SONGKRAN MUST SEE - Traditions & Beliefs

SONGKRAN MUST SEE

   Since hundreds of years ago, Thai people have celebrated Songkran Festival, the Traditional Thai New Year, between the harvest and the planting seasons. Now, each April, Songkran revives the spirit of ancestry to mark the beginning of the season of renewal. It is the most important festival in the Thai calendar. Across the country, it is time for laughter and entertainment, for religious ceremonies and merit-making, for families and friends... and of course, splashing water, lots of it!

   Songkran, which takes place from 13th to 15th April, marks the official start of the Thai New Year. The roots of the traditions and culture in Thailand lie firmly within the family structure and the Buddhist religion. The young are taught to pay respect to their parents, elders, teachers and Buddhist monks. That is why despite the fun of these three days soaking and harmless battlefields, Songkran is not only a splashing water festival.

   Songkran festival is celebrated throughout the country but perhaps nowhere with quite as much enthusiasm as in Chiang Mai (the land of Lanna). Here, the Lanna New Year is different from the Central Thai Songkran in many ways, be it the activities, beliefs or purposes.

   Lanna Pi Mai (new year in Lanna) comprises a 6-day period: Wan Sangkhanlong, Wan Nao, Wan Phayawan, Wan Pakpi, Wan Pakduen and Wan Pakyam. The three main days; April 13, 14, 15 are most important: April 13th being Wan Sangkhalong is the day marking the end of the old year; April 14th, called Wan Nao, is the first day of the new year and April 15th is Wan Phayawan, the day marking a new era. In addition to splashing water in every street it is also a time for visiting relatives, paying respect to elders and bathing Buddha images with scented water. The water theme continues with the dousing of friends, family and complete strangers with copious amounts of water in an atmosphere of fun and meritment unlike anywhere else. Street markets, food stalls, lively processions and performances add to the festive atmosphere of this special holiday.

   Religious ceremonies and rituals are also very important to Thai and Northern Thai people; Songkran is a time for blessing, apologizing and forgiving. These are some of the most important ceremonies held by families in Chiang Mai, some are celebrated at home, others in temples. They are all beautiful moments to witness: 

1/ “Tung” Making (Lanna Ceremonial Flag):
   Tung  is a vertical flag used to demarcate the boundary of sacred sites such as temples and other religious ornaments and crafts featured in Buddhist merit-making ceremonies. Tungs have been used for religious offerings since mid-13rd century. In Chiang Mai, different kinds of tungs are used for many occasions such as parades, buddhist ceremonies, festivals and funerals. Tung can be made 
from paper, cloth, palm leaves, wood or galvanized iron.

   During Songkran festival, the most common tungs used for the ceremonies in the temples are the “Tung Sai Muu” and “Tung Dio”, made of triangular shaped paper pieces, one of plain colour, the other one colorful with the 12 zodiac signs on it. Both are placed on top and around sand pagodas. The meaning of “Tung Dio” is to bring luck to the person who purchases it. “Tung Sai Muu” flag is to pay respect to the chedi and stupa.

   From April 5th to 15th, you can witness live presentation and participate in daily workshops of tung making at Lok Molee temple. Another event not to be missed is the Tung Lanna Flag Competition at Phan Tao Temple.

2/ Morning Alms Giving (April 13):
   As the sun rises in Chiang Mai, hundreds of Buddhist monks depart from their various temples. The tradition of alms offering dates back to the 14th century, yet still today locals wake up early to prepare food for the monks and wait quietly by the roadside. This ceremony is both peaceful and spiritual and it gives you a wonderful opportunity to experience the real Thailand. The Songkran Alms Giving Ceremonyis even greater as it is a holiday period and locals come together at Thapae gate to wait for hundreds of monks.

3/ “Mai Kham Bho” Procession:
   The Mai Kham Bho Procession is centred on the Bho tree, a sacred tree that can be found in temples. Bho trees are surrounded by wooden supports called Mai Kham Bo and these supports are placed around the trees in temples. Local beliefs say that the act of placing support around sacred trees brings luck and prosperity to devotees.

   Don’t miss witnessing the superb and unique procession of Mai Kham Bho in Chom Tong city (30 kilometres from Chiang Mai), Wat Phrathat Sri Chom Thong. This event has been celebrated in this city for 200 year, it features some of the tallest and most beautiful Mai Kham Bho, brought by hundreds of people from the surrounding villages dressed in their best outfits. The procession also includes drum music and traditional dances.

4/ Sand Offerings:
   Another important custom is to build sand pagodas in the temples. Villagers will come with candles, joss sticks, flowers, ceremonial flags and handfuls of sands. They will make sand pagodas and sprinkle them with scented water. This tradition comes from the belief that this is compensation for the dirt they have carried away on their feet during the year. Sand brought by people is put in piles which are decorated with colorful flags. Later during the year, it will be used for construction purposes and other public works.

5/ The Procession of Phra Phuttha Sihing:
   Phra Phuttha Sihing is the most revered Buddha image in Chiang Mai. The statue will be taken in a  procession that will move from Wat Phra Sing to go around Chiang Mai city. People standing along streets will ritually “bath” the Buddha statue. You can wait for the procession on Ratchadamnoen road (inside old city) or on Thapae road.

6/ The use of cented water:
   Songkran festival showcases centuries-old traditions often using water as a symbol of respect in numerous rituals, such as bathing Buddha relics inside temples, homes and paying homage to elders by pouring water on their hands. This Thai scented water is made of safran and jasmine flowers and Ngmab liquid a mix of white clay and Thai herbs including sandal wood, white cinnamon, pandan leaves and patchouli. Gently sprinkling this water on Buddha statues and over the hands of seniors is a form of respect and believed to bring good luck.

There are various other activities preserved and promoted during the Songkran festival:

  • the wearing of new clothes.
  • the cleaning of living spaces, nearby compounds in the community and Buddhist monasteries as places for merit making.
  • offering food to monks in the morning, or cooking food for monks to dedicate the merit to the late ancestors.
  • making merit by setting free fish and birds, listening to sermons and practicing the five precepts.
  • making merits for and devoting merits to ancestors.
  • offering robes to monks and novices.

   In addition to these beautiful traditions, there is also the fun of splashing water in the street. In Chiang Mai, people will be dancing in the streets and around the moat. This is the fun spirit of Songkran! Part of the fun of Songkran festival is to walk around city’s moat, where most of the action is. Hundreds of cars will be joining in which will cause the city’s biggest traffic jam of the year.


April 2023.

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