Songkran 2021 will once again be the biggest water fight in the world. Tourists visit year after year because of the simple fact that it offers a complete sensory overload – it’s a no holds barred, all-enveloping party. It is true that the modern aspect of Songkran hinges upon the splashing (soaking and sheer saturation) of water in celebration of the Thai New Year.
However, there exists a very important cultural and religious significance that underpins the rampant revelry. And Songkran 2021 looks set to continue this unique blend of hedonism and spirituality.
Many people don’t realise that Songkran is, in fact, a very quiet ceremony for the people of Thailand. As a counterpoint to all the water splashing and crazy partying that goes on among tourists, the traditional aspect of Songkran is about paying respect to one’s elders and it is a time for people to spend with their families at home.
Indeed, it’s a festival that centres on the profound importance of family and also upon religion. It’s akin to a Western Christmas in the fact that it just might be that one time of year where everyone makes a concerted effort to reunite.
And, it’s also a time to celebrate in abundance. There are a plethora of cultural activities that take place alongside the partying that happens on the streets. Beauty pageants operate in full swing in many areas across Thailand. The region erupts with colourful and exuberant parades and shows. Food festivals and bazaars offer visitors the chance to experience an almost never-ending array of local delicacies.
If you pay close attention to the less superficial aspects of Songkran you’ll be able to see that during the three-day celebration each day is devoted to a particular task. Reports do vary as to what each day is actually called and what activity is performed, so you’ll be able to decipher for yourself the individual significance of each day according to whichever region you’ve visited. Songkran is a highly religious and symbolic time with an enduring historic legacy.
People obviously come in hoards for the massive water fights, but the meaning of water goes far beyond this. Water is emblematic of renewal and is at the very heart of Thai religion and ritual in the New Year. It’s water splashing of a more delicate nature represents the cultural aspects of Songkran.
The third and final day of the celebrations and the first official day of the New Year is generally known to many as “Wan Payawan”. Families gather to sprinkle water from silver bowls onto a Buddha image. They dress in traditional Thai costume and wear leis of jasmine flower buds. The water is delicately scented with the jasmine petals. It’s a ritual that displays reverence to rejuvenation and rebirth as a new year is welcomed.
The oldest of Songkran rituals involves water mixed with a white powder or a pasty substance in a small silver bowl that is applied to the body parts of another, such as the face, neck and torso. An older person usually performs the rite on someone younger. The white paste is a sign of protection to ward off evil.
The longstanding traditions and rituals of Songkran will continue far into the future. It’s a celebration that is deeply embedded in Thai culture. The new astrological year and the passing of the sun from the sign Taurus into Aries marks a very important time for reflection for Thai people in their homeland and worldwide.
This rich and dynamic aspect of Songkran provides another avenue of exploration for visitors returning to Thailand in 2021. If you’ve already experienced (and perhaps been worn out by the water fights) you can get back to the roots of the Thai culture by seeking out the more authentic incarnations of the festival.
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