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April 13th 2014

12 Apr 2014 Written by 

 

Sawatdee Pee Mai Kap!
songkranThe fact that all the shops in Koh Tao have recently been selling water pistols can mean only one thing. Today is Songkran! Songkran is the traditional Thai new year, and they sure know how to celebrate in style. Thais roam the streets with containers of water or water guns. All along the streets, people will have small bowls of beige colored talc sold cheaply and mixed with water, which is then smeared on the faces and bodies of random passersby as a blessing for the new year. Sometimes this talc is mixed with menthol, just in case you would otherwise smell like a wet dog. What this all means is that, no matter where you go today, there will be no escaping the fact that you will be doused, squirted, showered, and sprinkled, with water- most of it ice-cold. Everyone gets involved, and I mean everyone.
By around 10am, Big Blue will be transformed into a water park (minus the height restrictions on the rides), with customers, Thai staff, Burmese staff, shop girls, instructors, divemasters, tech divers, freedivers, and divemaster trainees all getting a piece of the action. It's really not a good day to be walking around with your backpack on, or to have anything electrical like your smartphone in your pocket. It's also not a good day for feeling grumpy and getting annoyed with being doused with water everywhere you go- ocassionally there is the odd hapless tourist that hasn't read anything about Thailand before visiting, who is caught unawares by it all and just can't get into the spirit of things. Maybe it would be better for them to stay indoors for the day and let everyone else have all the fun.
Though this will be my 4th Sonkran, the details of the preceding 3 are, to put it midly a little sketchy, as the Big Blue bar is also open in the morning and throughout the rest of the day and night! It's the biggest day of the year on Koh Tao, way bigger than Christmas, and it's a great opportunity to let loose and have some fun. But for everyone out there enjoying the festivities, please be careful and leave your bikes at home. Sawatdee Pee Mai Kap!!!!

Songkran- why water?
So why is it that the entire festivities at Songkran revolve around dousing people with water? The throwing of water originated as a way to pay respect to people, by capturing the water after it had been poured over the Buddhas for cleansing and then using this "blessed" water to give good fortune to elders and family by gently pouring it on the shoulder. Among young people the holiday evolved to include dousing strangers with water to relieve the heat, since April is the hottest month in Thailand (temperatures can rise to over 40°C). This has further evolved into water fights and splashing water over people riding in vehicles.
Nowadays, the emphasis is on fun and water-throwing rather than on the festival's spiritual and religious aspects, which sometimes prompts complaints from traditionalists. In recent years there have been calls to moderate the festival to lessen the many alcohol-related road accidents as well as injuries attributed to extreme behavior such as water being thrown in the faces of traveling motorcyclists. The water is meant as a symbol of washing all of the bad away and is sometimes filled with fragrant herbs when celebrated in the traditional manner.
Besides the throwing of water, people celebrating Songkran as a Buddhist festival may also go to a wat (Buddhist monastery) to pray and give food to monks. They may also cleanse Buddha images from household shrines as well as Buddha images at monasteries by gently pouring water mixed with a Thai fragrance over them. It is believed that doing this will bring good luck and prosperity for the New Year. In many cities, such as Chiang Mai, the Buddha images from all of the city's important monasteries are paraded through the streets so that people can toss water at them, ritually 'bathing' the images, as they pass by on ornately decorated floats. In northern Thailand, people may carry handfuls of sand to their neighborhood monastery in order to recompense the dirt that they have carried away on their feet during the rest of the year. The sand is then sculpted into stupa-shaped piles and decorated with colorful flags.
Some people make New Year resolutions - to refrain from bad behavior, or to do good things. Songkran is a time for cleaning and renewal. Besides washing household Buddha images, many Thais also take this opportunity to give their home a thorough cleaning. On Koh Tao, Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, Songkran lasts officially 1 day. In Bangkok it is around 3 days, but in Chiang Mai it goes on for a staggering 7 days!

 

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Read 911 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 October 2017 08:24

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