The Southeast Asian Songkran Tradition

12 Feb 2021

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Songkran is coming up on April 13th and most of us understand this to be a Thailand tradition however it goes further than this and has history in the whole of Southeast Asia.

Indeed this tradition is a New Year’s Day of the Southeast Asia ethnicity group which are the Buddhist community such as Lao, Cambodian and Burmese as well as Thai.

We found a story that identified ‘Songkran Festival’ in India is regarded as the origin of this tradition in Thailand and Southeast Asia countries. In India, this tradition is called ‘Holi’ which will be held on the 15th day of the 4th waxing moon (the last Sunday of March) and it is a color splashing event.

The word ‘Songkran’ is from the Sanskrit language which means ‘move or step forward’. In India, this word means the passage of the sun from one sign of the Zodiac to another.

(Source: Prachachat Weekly business newspaper: April 11, 2016 Page: 8)

Myanmar – Deep-rooted Tradition
Songkran in Myanmar will be celebrated on the second week of April. The month is the first month of Myanmar’s calendar which is called ‘TAGU’ (March-April) and is marked as the arrival of Spring. Burmese call Songkran ‘Yebavaedor’ (‘ye’ means water and ‘bavaedor’ means Festival).                         

As is the same in Thailand, throughout the 5 days of celebration, people will splash water joyfully to wash away the bad luck and misfortune of the previous year, entering the New Year cleansed from the past.

Cambodia – The old land of Hinduism
Cambodian New Year is also the same day as Songkran Day in Thailand. It is called ‘Chaul Chnam Thmey’ meaning to enter the new year and it is also marked as the end of the harvest seasons.

The rituals and activities of Songkran festival in Cambodia are similar to Thailand’s which are making merit, forming sand pagodas, sprinkling scented water on the Buddha and enjoy folk plays.

In Cambodia, they celebrate Songkran for three days and the three days of celebration each have their own associated traditions. The first day, people will make a merit by offering alms to monks. They also take sand back to their local temple for the intention of forming pagodas in the next day. The second day is a family day so everyone will get together and help each other forming sand chedis or pagodas. On the third day, they will enjoy the folk plays, clean statues of Lord Buddha with scented water and bathe their parents and grandparents in return for blessing and good advice for the future.

Laos – Similar culture to Thailand
New Year’s Day in Laos is called ‘Kut Songkran’ and is held in from the 14th to 16th.

The activities will be similar to the North of Thailand’s. The first day is ‘Wan Sangkan Luang’ (the last day of the old year). People will clean their house properly to prepare to receive good things in upcoming year. The second day is ‘Wan Nao’ which means ‘day of no day’ (a day that falls in neither the old year nor the New Year). This day is a Family Day because all relatives will get together and prepare for the traditional blessing ceremony which called ‘Bai-si’ for the elder people in the family. The third day is ‘Wan Sangkan Kuen’ which is the festival marks the start of the new year. For this day, they will do Bai-si, wash Buddha images with scented water and enjoy the parade of ‘Nang Sangkarn’ or Miss Songkran in Lao language.

Songkran Festival in Laos is really popular among foreign travelers especially in a scenery town like Luang Prabang. Furthermore, they will organise a Miss Songkran Beauty Contest which always takes place here every year.

Malaysia – Happy Songkran
Although most of Malaysians (59%) are Islam, Buddhism (19.3%) still gives importance to the original tradition like Songkran. Especially in the northern part of the country, a thousand Buddhists always celebrate this event during 12 - 14 April every year.

Penang is one of many states that are enthusiastic to organise this event and also Perak which is located only 10 kilometers far from Betong, Yala, Thailand. Over 2 thousand of Malaysian-Thai descent who live around that area will always take part in this tradition ceremony which is really similar to Thailand’s. That is to eliminate all unfortunate to get good things on New Year’s Day.

Singapore – 1st Songkran Festival goes dry
In 2014, Singapore prepared to organise a Songkran Festival at Padang field in the centre of Singapore during 12 - 13 April. This project caused a huge of attention to many tourists, yet it was criticized that Singapore was copying Thai’s culture. The festival was cancelled because its against water conservation policy in Singapore.

Here on Koh Phangan the activities of the water celebration can be seen for just one day however in other parts of the country the water throwing can last for up to one week! We hope you enjoy Songkran on our lovely island this 2018.


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