Date 08/08/2015

SONGKRAN FESTIVAL



SONGKRAN FESTIVAL

Translated by Dr.P.M. Vichao Pengphol and Dr. Somboon Duangsamosorn

Meaning

Songkran is a Sanskrit word which is combined with Song and Krant that means the entry of the sun into a new sign of the Zodiac. This is the Thai New Year’s Day. It usually falls on April 13-14-15 every year. But Songkran Festival on April 13 is Maha Songkran Day, April 14 is Wan Nao, April 15 is Wan Thaloeng Sok. Meaning of the words according to Songkran Day is as follows :
Songkran means "stepping into” and "entering.” Its meaning is that the sun leaves the sign Pisces minarasi and enters Aries. This is the circumstance which occurs every month, it is called Songkran-month. But when the sun enters Aries again after the 12 months are completed, it is called Song-Kran-year that will be solar New Year’s Day according to astrology.

Maha Songkran means the great stepping or the great entering that is Year-Songkran, it will be New Year’s Day only, viz. Songkran means both Song-Kran month and Song-kran year but Maha Songkran means Song-Kran year only.

Wan Nao means "to reside” the word "Nao” means "to reside”. It means the day next to Maha Songkran Day. Maha Songkran Festival is the day on which the sun enters Aries in new year. Wan Nao is the day on which the sun has already entered Aries and still remains in its place.

Wan Thaloeng Sok means "the New Year’s Day” that changes to a new minute. Changing the new minute occurs on the third day of Maha Songkran, because it is meant for getting rid of the problems that have arisen. There is no problem about the beginning of the year, but it may have a problem with hours, minutes and seconds, because it is not exactly complete to change the year. If the New Year’s Day begins on the third day, it means that it has been postponed for a minute or a second to the third day for at least the sun has entered a new sign of the Zodiac for not less than one degree and then it may enter the second degree or the third degree.

Traditionally, Songkran is the Thai New Year’s Day which was believed in and has been followed from the ancient time. It is our national culture that is splendid, conspicuous and has impressed Thai people for a long time. Even foreigners have been interested in it and known the Thai Songkran Festival very well. There are many academicians who have given the meaning of Songkran Festival as :

Sathirkoses (Phraya Anumanrajathon) :

"Songkran Tradition is celebrating Thai New Year’s Day. It usually begins on 13th April and ends on 15th April every year. On this occasion there are activities of cleansing house, making merit, bathing Buddha images and venerated monks, pouring water upon their senior persons and throwing water among friends.” Prof. Manee Payomyong:

"Songkran Festival is the Thai New Year’s Day on which Thai people clean their houses, make merit, pour water upon their senior persons, enjoy water - throwing among friends and variety of entertainment.”

With these sources, the Office of the National Cultural Commission considered that information relevant to the Songkran Festival should be collected, studied, researched and analysed by appointing a sub-committee for promoting activities in Songkran Festival. The Sub-committee has worked out and given the meanings of the Songkran Festival as follows :
1.Songkran day is the day of generosity

The bathing of Buddha images and of venerated monks, pouring water upon their senior persons and asking for their blessing, water-throwing among friends and wishing each other a happy life are regarded as a splendid tradition which indicates a close concern to each other in the Thai society. Thus, Songkran tradition at present should be continued by means of increasing mental values, sympathy, mindfulness, respects and gratitude including preservation of the natural environment.

2.The legend of the Songkran Festival

The legend of Songkran Festival appears on a stone inscription at Wat Phrachetupon as Follows :
There was a millionaire who had no son and a drunkard lived near his house. The drunkard had two sons who had skin that looked like gold. One day the drunkard came to see the millionaire and said vulgar words to him. The millionaire asked him that, "Why did you say such vulgar words to a rich man like me ?”. The drunkard answered that, "Even you have this great treasure, but you have no son. After your death, your great treasure will vanish, but I have two sons, so I am better off than you.” The millionaire was ashamed that he had made a sacrifice to the sun and the moon continuously for three years, but he had not had any son. One day during the Songkran Festival the sun entered into the Zodiac. The millionaire took followers to a Banyan tree where a bird lived at the bank of a river. He washed rice in water seven times before it was cooked for worshipping the Banyan God and the music was played while he was asking the God to bless him with a son. The Banyan God was sympathetic with him. Afterward, the Indra God ordered Dharmapala to be conceived in the womb of the millionaire’s wife. She gave birth to a son and he was called Dharmapalakumar. The millionaire gave orders to build a seven-floor castle that was situated under Banyan tree for his son who grew up, studied the three Vedas and could understand even the languages of birds. At the age of seven years old he was a teacher who gave blessings to the people.

At that time the whole world respected Thao Maha Phrom and Kabil Phrom. They believed that Thao Maha Phrom blessed human beings to be happy. Kabil Phrom came down and asked three riddles to Dharmapalakumar. Kabil Phrom promised Dharmapalakumar that if Dharmapalakumar could answer the riddles correctly within seven days, he would cut off his own head, but if Dharmapalakumar could not answer the riddles, then Kabil Phrom would cut off Dharmapalakumar’s head. These sphinx-like riddles were :- Where was the Zodiacal sign in the morning ?. Where was the Zodiacal sign in the afternoon? Where was the Zodiacal sign in the evening? Dharmapalakumar asked for permission to answer the riddles within seven days.

Six days passed and Dharmapalakumar still could not find the answers to the riddles. Dharmapalakumar thought that he would die on the following day through Kabil Phrom’s punishment. He did not want to die and would have liked to escape and hide himself somewhere better.
 
Dharmapalakumar then went down from the castle and slept on the ground between two palmyra-trees. There were two eagles who were husband and wife and had made a nest on the palmyra-trees. In the evening the female eagle asked her husband that, "Where will we have our food tomorrow?” The husband said that, "We will eat the dead body of Dharmapalakumar who will be killed by Kabil Phrom because Dharmapalakumar will not be able to answer Kabil Phrom’s riddles.” Then she asked "What are those riddles?” He answered that, "These riddles are: Where is Zodiacal sign in the morning, afternoon and evening ?” She asked her husband for the answers. He answered that, "The morning Zodiacal sign is on the face, because human beings use water to wash their face in the morning. In the afternoon, Zodiacal sign is on the chest, because human beings apply scented water on their chests and the Zodiacal sign is at the feet in the evening, because all human beings use water to wash their feet before they go to bed.”

Dharmapalakumar heard these answers and went back to his castle. Thao Kabil Phrom came down on the following day and asked him the three sphinx-like riddles and Dharmapalakumar could answer them all. After that, Thao Kabil Phrom called his seven daughters who were the maid-servants of Indra. After they had come to see their father, Thao Kabil Phrom said to them that he would cut off his own head to worship Dharmapalakumar. If his head touched the earth, then there would be a universal conflagration. If it was thrown into the air, then there would be a universal drought. If it fell into the sea, then the sea would dry up. So Thao Kabil Phrom ordered the seven daughters to bring a golden vessel to receive his head and then he cut off his head and gave it to his eldest daughter. She put the head on the golden vessel and carried it in the procession with other gods and goddesses circulating around Phrasumeru Mountain for 60 minutes and then Thao Kabil Phom’s head was enshrined in the cave of Krailas Mount and worshipped with offerings. Phravessukam created a castle that was adorned with seven kinds of gems, which was called Bhagavati, the Assembly Hall of gods and goddesses. The gods and goddesses carry Kabil Phrom’s head in the procession to celebrate the Songkran Day or the typical Thai New Year’s Day when 365 days are complete. The seven goddesses take their turns carrying Thao Kabil Phrom’s head in the procession circulating around Phra Sumeru Mountain every year and return to heaven. This is the legend of the Songkran Festival according to the inscription stone at Wat Phra Chetuphon, Bangkok.

The seven daughters of Thao Kabil Phrom are regarded as Nang Songkran whom Prof. Phraya Anumanrajathon (Yong Sathirkoses) has introduced to facilitate reading as follows :

The seven goddesses, who live at Phra Sumeru Mountain, eat Chamulad climbing creeper (plant) which is washed seven times in Anodad Pond before eating. Their characteristics as individually introduced by Phraya Anumanrajathon are as follows:

1. The first daughter, Doongsa, for Sunday

Flower Red Flowers

Ornament Lotus - Shaped Ornament

Food Fig Fruits

WeaponChakra or Conch Shell

Venicle Garuda

2.The Second daughter, Korad, for Monday

Flower Monda Necklace Flowers (Talauma Candollei)

Ornament moonstone

Food Oil

Weapon Sabre , Stick

Vehicle Tiger

3. The Third daughter, Raksos, for Tuesday

Flower Pink Lotus

Ornament Agate

Food Blood

Weapon Trident , Bow and Arrow

Vehicle Pig

4.The Fourth daughter, Manda, for Wednesday

Flower Champac Flowers (Michelia Champaca)
Ornament Lapis Lazuli or Cat’s Eye

Food Milk and Butter

Weapon Stick , Pointed Iron Stick

Vehicle Donkey

5.The Fifth daughter, Kirinee, for Thursday

Flower White Flowers
Ornament Emerald

Food Bean or Sesame

Weapon Hook , Gun

Vehicle Elephant

6. The Sixth daughter, Kimida, for Friday

Flower Red Lotus (Chongkolni)

Ornament Yellow sapphire

Food Banana and Water
Weapon Sabre , Indian Lute

Vehicle Buffalo

7.The Seventh daughter, Mahothorn, for Saturday

Flower Water Hyacinth Flowers Ornament Blue Sapphire

Food Deer Meat

Weapon Chakra , Trident

Vehicle Peacock

However, the names of the seven daughters vary according to different text books, for example Korad for Monday is called Kora or Koras, Manda for Wednesday is called Monda, and Kimida for Friday is called Misara, etc. Besides some of their names are not appropriate such as Raksos which is translated as vicious ogress Kirinee translated as female elephant, Mahothorn translated as Miss Big Belly and some of which cannot be translated.

History

Activities during the Songkran Festival are usually organised on April 13, 14 and 15 every year.

1. Prof. Phraya Anmuanrajathon.

April 13 is the Maha Songkran Day or the day to mark the end of the old year.

April 14 is called Wan Nao which is the day after.

April 15 is the day on which the New Year begins.

Duties during the Songkran Festival are divided in two parts.

1. Preparation
1.1 Keeping clothes clean or buying new ones and preparing cloth to present to the elderly.
1.2 Cleaning houses, temples and residential areas.
1.3 Offerings of food to monks.
2. Religious Activities :
2.1 Merit - acquisition and donation
2.1.1 Alms-offerings in the morning tomonks at temples & to dedicate results of merits to ancestors.
2.1.2 Releasing birds and fish.
2.1.3 Giving gifts to children, old people and neighbours Prof. Phraya Anumanrajathon
2.2 Anointing Buddha images and monks with water.
2.3 Gently pouring water in the elders’ palms.
2.4 Water-throwing among friends .
2.5 Local funfair to mark the New Year.
Value and Significance
The Songkran Festival has been organised to celebrate the Thai New Year since ancient time. In this festival, activities are organised by people of all ages and status who are united to express their unity to celebrate the occasion by cleaning houses and temples and harmoniously acquire merits to dedicate the results of their good deeds to their departed ancestors. This is an act to express gratitude to and awareness of their ancestors’ virtue. Anointing monks and Buddha images, pouring scented water to the elderly to be blessed by them, entertaining programmes such as indigenous fun-fair are organised to identify the festival that includes water throwing among the young ones and children with a friendly attitude. Such an action leads to generosity to strengthen our Thai Culture heritage.
The Songkran tradition is recognised as a valuable custom for the Thai community, society and religions :
1. Values for Family
To provide the opportunity for family members to gather in order to express their love and care, for example, children, sons and daughters, grandchildren to pour scented water onto the hands of their parents and grandparents and to present them gifts including making merit to dedicate the results to
 
their ancestors.
2. Values for Community
To provide the opportunity to create unity in the community such as to jointly acquire merit, to meet each other and to enjoy the entertaining events.
3. Values for Society
To create concern upon environment with corporation, to clean houses, temples, public places and official buildings.
4. Religious Values
To jointly perpetuate religions by means of merits acquisition, offerings alms to monks, Dharma Practice, listening to sermon and monks-bathing.
Present conditions and Problems in organising activities in the Songkran Festival.
The Songkran festival which is traditionally followed at present :
1. Cleaning houses, communal residences, temples and clothes.
2. Merit-acquisition.
3. Releasing birds and fish.
4. Anointing Buddha images and monks.
5. Pouring scented water on the elderly to apologise them and to be blessed by them.
7. Indigenous traditional fun-fair.
The tradition that is still being practised, though it has deviated :
Water throwing at present has been changed in nature. That is it has become aggressive, violent, illegal and without being aware of dangers that may happen to others such as throwing muddy water and ice at travelling vehicles. Such actions not only cause pain and shame to others, but may also be harmful to life and property. It may, as well, lead to serious conflicts and quarrels. Besides, it may cause accidents which are actions of mindlessness and uncultured manners which can serve to destroy
our sublime Thai tradition.
- Activities that have been set, in adition to the original ones: beaut contest to select Miss Songkran, at
present very popular, etc.
Table to compare Songkran activities being followed at present :

Serial Activities Unchanged Changed Increased
Number

1. Cleaning

2. Merit-acquisition and donation

3. Releasing bird and fish

4. Monks-Bathing

5. Pouring scented water and to be blessed by the elder

6. Water throwing

7. Fun-fair

8. Beauty Contest

Suggestions

Cultural Activities in the Songkran Festival :

In order to know and understand the history, significance, and value of the Songkran Festival, appropriate and effective activities should be organised as follows :

1. Conference or seminar to know and understand history significance, and value of the Songkran Festival.
2. Campaign and disseminate relevant information by means of public relations to know and understand the history, significance and value of the Songkran Festival.

3. Activities that should be organised during the Songkran Festival :

- Cleaning

- Merit - acquisition
- Releasing birds and fish

- Anointing Buddha images and monks

- Pouring scented water to apologise the elderly and to be blessed by them

- Polite water-throwing that does not annoy others and violate there rights.

- Beauty contest that is recognised in the society at present, but it should not be given too much importance.

4.Other appropriate activities.

Therefore, Songkran Festival is a sublime tradition which is a part of the invaluable heritage of Thai society that we must harmoniously guard, so Songkran Day is observed as a day of generosity, valuable for family, community, society and religion. On Songkran Day houses, schools, offices and temples should be specially cleaned. Activities relevant to the Songkran Festival are merit - acquisition for departed ancestors and pouring scented water on the elderly to be blessed by them. All of these should be continuously preserved as these indicate profound wisdom of our ancestors to have created and strengthened the family and social link and concern toward environment.




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