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     Songkran , regarded as Thai traditional New Year, has been an exotic Thai tradition for generations. Not only Thai people living in Thailand concern importance of Songkran, but also people who speak the language which has the same origin as Thai such as Laotian, Thai people in Myanmar who live near the border at the north of Thailand, and Thai spoken Chinese people in Hunan.

In general, 'Songkran' is the word popularly used. But the actual word, in full, is 'Troot Songkran' which will be described as follows.

     'Troot' means 'cut' or 'separation' which refers the end or the separation of the year. Therefore, 'troot' represents a celebration that the old year is ended and people manage to live throughout the year. Traditional Thai believes regard April as both the month of the old year and the new year. Merit-making on troot days last for 3 days; the fourteenth day of the fourth waning moon, the fifteenth day of the fourth waning moon, and the first day of the new moon. Monks are invited to reprove. Merit-making, food giving are performed, especially to monks. In turn, people get blessed. It is assumed that Thai people are Bhudhism so that they are influenced by this kind of ceremonies as those in Lang Ka.

      Songkran means movement or displacement, refers to the Sun is moving into the new year. New year days last from April 13th-15th, annually.

     April 13th is called Maha Songkran day.April 14th is called Wan Nao , and April 15th is called the beginning of new year day. These may be called differently in the North, but still easy to understand. For example, April 13th, called Sungkarnlong day, means the old body, mind and spirits of the old year are leaving. April 14th, called Wan Nao, April 15th, called Wan Paya Wan, means a first important day of the New Year.

The story of Songkran, as found in historical records at Wat Pra Chetupon, mentioned the origin of Songkran as below.

     There was a rich guy who was accused by a drunken neighbour, saying that the rich is useless because it can't help him to have any children to succeed the family. So the rich guy went to pledge at the riverside banyan tree on Songkran day. Indhra helped him by commanding Dhamabal Dhewabutr to be born in the rich guy's wife. After his berth, he was named Dhamabal Kumara. His father built a seven-storey tower for him under the banyan tree. Dhamabal was a very wise man. He fisnished his Tripesa when he was only 7 and also knew bird's language. Kabilabrahma came to test Dhamabal's intellect by asking him 3 questions. If he could give the right answers, Kabilabrahma would cut off his own head to worship. The questions are:

  1. Where is the morning's sign of zodiac?
  2. Where is the noon's sign of zodiac?
  3. Where is the evening's sign of zodiac?

Kabilabrahma would come to get the answers in 7 days.

On the sixth day, Dhamabal still could not find the answers. So sneaked out to hide at the two big palmyra tree where a couple of eagles live.

     In the evening, the female eagle asked her husband where would they get their food on the next day. The male eagle replied that they would eat Dhamabal kumara's dead body, got killed because he could not gave Kabilabrahma the right answers. The female asked what were the question and the answers. Her husband told her the answers, which were;

  1. The morning's sign of zodiac is at the face, so that human wash their face in the morning
  2. The noon's sign of zodiac is at the chest, so that human sprinkle fragrance on their chest
  3. The evening sign of zodiac is at the feet, so that human wash their before they go to bed.

     After Dhamabal heard what the eagle said, he rushed back to his tower. On the foolwing day, Kabilabrahma came to ask the questions. Dhamabal gave him the answers he heard from the eagle. Kabilabrahma lost, so he had to cut off his own head as promised. But Kabilabrahma's head had great supernatural power. If the head fell to the ground, the earth would be on fire. If the head was exposed to the air, there would be bad drought everywhere. If the head was dumped into the water, the ocean would be suddenly dried. Seven daughters must, therefore, use tray to carry the head in the parade around Mount Prasumeru . The head was then kept in Kantabuli cave at Mount Krai Las. When it completes a circle of 365 days or a year, one of the seven daughters had to carry the head of Kabilabrahma in the parade around the Mount Prasumeru. It is appointed that April 13th is Maha Songkran day, the daughter who is assigned on that day had to be a person who carried the head. The assignment is as below ;

  • Sunday : Songkran lady is Tung Sa
  • Monday : Songkran lady is Ko Rak
  • Tuesday : Songkran lady is Rak Sod
  • Wednesday : Songkran lady is Manta
  • Thursday : Songkran lady is Kirinee
  • Friday : Songkran lady is Kimita
  • Saturday : Songkran lady is Mahotorn

     Songkran has been a Thai ceremonial tradition for a very long time. From April 13th to April 15th, people perform merit-makings which includes releasing birds and fish, and also bathing monks. People then play water throwing and native sports.

     The tradition of releasing fish is a very good activity because it helps a natural reservation. In April, it is very dry and hot. Water resources become dried. Fish gather in small water resources. When these places become completely dry, fish will all die or become other creatures' pray. Humans help them by bringing them to the river and release them. In raining season, fishes, survived from the drought, come back to breed and become food for humans.

Songkran in Chiang Mai

      During Songkran, in the North and Northeast, there are water throwing everywhere. It is common that they stop working for up to 7 days, in some places. The most famous and most fun Songkran celebration is held in Chiang Mai. People of Chiang Mai would do as described here ;

April 13th, called Wan Sungkarnlong, is the day to clean up their houses.

April 14th, called Wan Nao, people will bring food for monks and relatives. This day is the beginning day of the new year. They must not do anything bad, not to speak rude words to others.

April 15th is Wan Paya Wan, regarded as the best day, merit-makings are main activity. There is an organized parade to bathe monks, elderly people and wish for blessing.

     The eminence of Chiang Mai, which attracts people to come to play Songkran in Chaing Mai, is that it has a canal surrounding its inner ancient city. People from everywhere gather at the canal around the city, throwing water to people with fun. The other important activity is that Wat (temples) bring their own sacred Buddha images into a remarkable long parade such as a parade of Pra Singha, parade of the white crystal Buddha. These Buddha images are between 700-1000 years old. The parade goes through the center of the city and people can take part in bathing those Buddha images with scented water. Every year, during Songkran, the city of Chiang Mai is packed with people. It can be said that the city is closed for Songkran for the whole 3 days.

Translator : Aketawan Manowongsa
22 July 2000