The Buddhist New Year, Songkran, taking place around the 13 April every year is one of the most important festivals in Thailand marking the beginning of the year according to the lunar calendar. The day before Songkran is meant to be one of the hottest days of the year in Thailand Thai people spray their Buddhas with water but also their friends. The belief being that water keeps you away from bad luck and purifies. During that period, water battles take place all over the country, and people enjoy spraying each other with water and/or white chalk (used by monks for blessing ceremonies). Songkran is celebrated throughout the country, especially in Chiang Mai and Phra Praokong, on the outskirts of Bangkok. It is worth remembering that Songkran is above all a period of gathering and reunion for Thai families. It is a tradition for young family members to pour Jasmine scented water on the hands of their elders to ask them for their blessing for the coming year. This ritual is at the origin of the aquatic war raging in the kingdom for three to four days each year in April. Coming from the Sanskrit language, the word Songkran means to pass or to change. And in Thailand, it implies the passage and movement of the sun, the moon and other planets in one of the orbits of the zodiac. Songkran can be “sanuk,” fun, in Thailand, even for grumpy expats, provided that you take some extra precautions before risking yourself out at your favorite sites as wear light clothes that dry fast, and avoid white shirts as they quickly become transparent once soaked!
Another Buddhist tradition related to Songkran is the construction of small sand pagodas in the temples as a symbol of merit. The sand brought for this purpose represents the soil that left the temple. The sand pagodas symbolize the return of this ground on the New Year occasion. Each year, the Songkran festivities attract visitors from all over the world to discover and live one of the most important Thai traditions. Each province and each community have its way of celebrating Songkran, as it varies between the different regions. This water festival is also celebrated in Cambodia, Laos, and Burma. Although the spiritual background and the symbolic are the same, the water festival has different names and may be celebrated in a different way according to the country. Especially in Burma and Thailand, where tradition has evolved from ritual sprinkling to the systematic irrigation of streets and people, often using pumps and large pipes, with violent jets that cause a large number of accidents, sometimes fatal.
In Cambodia, the Khmer New Year is celebrated as Bon Chaul Chhnam. The dates vary according to the lunar calendar, but the water festival always starts on April 13 or 14 and ends on the 15th or the 16th. It marks the end of the dry season. The Cambodians take this opportunity to thoroughly clean their homes, bring offerings to the pagodas, visit the family and exchange gifts. There too, they spray others with water, but in recent years, the fashion has rather turned to powder the face with talc or flour. In the capital, the center of celebrations is at the base of the Wat Phnom Hill.
In the ancient kingdom of Lanna, it was the opportunity for women (and only them) to spray men. Today this ritual has changed, and everyone sprays everyone. Not only during these three days but also one week before. The spraying is less violent than in Burma and Thailand. People also smear their face of black coal, white flour and red paint to keep spirits away.