Religious rituals and the world’s biggest water party: Songkran in Thailand

You certainly know the pictures of Thais and tourists having high-spirited water fights in the streets, getting thoroughly wet and having a lot of fun. Every year in April these photos make headlines all over the world, having made Thai New Year Festival, which takes place between the 13th and 15th of April, widely known. As a guest you have the opportunity to participate in this traditional festival and thus immerse yourself in Thai culture. We give you some background information and tips for an unforgettable Songkran experience.

Family comes first

Rod Nam Dam Hua ©TAT

Songkran is a religious festival with two aspects that are particularly important: the family, that has first priority, and the century-old ceremonies taking place in the temples. During the Songkran festivities, young people pay tribute to the older ones, parents as well as grandparents. Traditionally, they prepare a special kind of water that smells of rose and jasmine, and use it to wash their parents’ hands and feet. Afterwards, the children receive their parents’ blessings.

Purifying water for a clear mind

Song Nam Phra at Sanam Luang Bangkok ©TAT

In temples, but also in shops, Buddha images and statues are sprinkled with sacred water. This ritual (called Song Nam Phra) has a special meaning, as the sacred water is said to have a purifying effect on the mind. If you want to participate in this ritual, take care to sprinkle the body of the Buddha images or statues only, not the head. As a kind of logical consequence, Song Nam Phra was followed by Rod Nam Dam Hua: sprinkling family members. From these rituals developed the famous high-spirited water battles. If you want to participate, it is best to find out if you are in a region where water is scarce and make sure that you do not use too much of it.

Good karma and a visit to a temple

Sand Pagoda at Sukhothai Historical Park ©TAT

It is particularly interesting to visit a temple during Songkran, not only because of Song Nam Phra, as you will find beautiful and elaborately constructed sandcastles here during this period. They are built to replace the earth that has been displaced by visitors in the course of the year. Now is also the perfect time to follow the example of the Thais and do something for your good karma: frequently, birds or fish are set free. You can take part in these activities – or simply watch – for example at the temple Wat Proteket Chettaram in Phra Pradaeng in Samut Prakan province.

A special variation: Songkran in Nakhon Si Thammarat

Nang Dan parade and Lo Ching Cha ©TAT

You can experience a real highlight and a very special kind of Songkran in the Southern region of Nakhon Si Thammarat and its capital of the same name, as here Buddhist influences blend with Hindu ones. An interesting example is the Nang Dan parade. At first, people in traditional costumes carry three boards, in each of which a Hindu god is carved, through the city. This is followed by an impressive ceremony, celebrating the arrival of the Hindu god Shiva, in the city park. The festivities come to a spectacular end with Lo Ching Cha: in pairs, teenage volunteers kneel on a swing that is set in motion and gradually pulled up in the air. At the top, the person in the front stands up and tries to reach a coin purse attached to a nearby tree. By all means, they can be sure of the audience’s applause and admiration.