Songkran is the Thai New Year's national holiday. Though it is celebrated on 13th April, the holiday period extends from 14th to 15th of April so that the citizens can travel home for the celebration. The word Songkran comes from the Sanskrit word ‘Sankranti’ which literally means astrological passage or rather a transformation or change. It is a celebration of the new year in accordance with the solar calendar. The name is also said to be borrowed from the ‘Makar Sankranti’ the name of a Hindu harvest festival celebrated in India in January to mark the arrival of spring.
Buddhist scriptures at Wat Pho implies that Songkran feasibly originated from the death of Kapila Brahma Thai. According to the literal meaning, Songkran occurs every month. But the period that the people of Thailand refers to is the ‘Maha Songkran’ or the great Songkran when the sun moves from Pisces to Aries in the zodiac. For convenience, the name was later shortened to simply Songkran.
The official opening ceremony of the Songkran festival is conducted at Wat Pho which is one of the most famous Buddhist temples in Thailand. The spectacular gold plated reclining Buddha is situated at Wat Pho. The Songkran festival is abundant in symbolic traditions. As it is a festival of unity, people staying far away from their families return to their loved ones and elders. Thailand’s biggest Songkran celebration takes place at Chiang Mai where it begins slightly earlier, that is, on the 12th of April. The island of Phuket is also charged with activity during Songkran, especially in the Patong Beach area.
Paying reverence to ancestors is another important part of the Songkran festival. The first day witnesses extravagant celebrations filled with processions throughout the country. Mornings begin with a visit to Buddhist temples and food offerings to Monks. Buddhists pour water on Buddha statues and images as a mark of adoration. A tempting array of sumptuous food items are also available during the festival.
Pouring water on each other, which is a part of the festival is a symbol of purifying and washing away one's sins. Major streets are closed to traffic and converted into arenas for water fights and traditional parades. Crowds of people walk around these arenas splashing water at everyone they see using water pistols or just by throwing cups of water from a bucket. So if you're planning to visit Thailand during the Songkran season, prepare to get showered! Tourists can also buy water guns and take part in the festival. In some venues, competitions are held where the contestants dressed in traditional Thai costumes and ‘Miss Songkran’ is crowned.
On 14th of April when the sun travels between Pisces and Aries, the old Thai New Year's Eve is celebrated, known as Wan Nao. On this day, many Buddhists go to their temple to build sand ‘chedis’ or sand castles. The Thai New Year's day is celebrated on 15th April which marks the final day of Songkran festival. It is also filled with many events and traditions.