Songkran refers to the traditional new year celebrated from April 13 to April 15 each year in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and parts of China, Vietnam and northern India. Songkran is derived from the Sanskrit term Sankranti which means “transcription of the sun from one Rashi to the next”. The Songkran festival begins when you see the first zodiac sign of the Zodiac (when the sun passes in the constellations of Aries). The great Songkran celebration usually occurs during the Aries which indicates the beginning of a new period and the new year.
History of Songkran
Songkran borrows a lot from the ancient Indian Makar Sankranti festival. In India, Makar Sankranti marks the beginning of spring, and Indians celebrate this festival in January each year. The celebrations coincide with the rise of Aries in the astrological chart and with the beginning of a new year of many calendars of South East and South Asia.
Three days of Songkran
The festival is a three-day affair and every day has its meaning and its name.
Maha Songkran is the first day of the New Year holidays, and marks the end of the previous year and the beginning of a new one. On this day, everyone dresses well and burns incense in shrines. Each family member gives thanks for the Buddha’s teachings by kneeling, bowing and prostrating himself three times in front of his image. They also wash their faces with holy water in the morning, at noon they wash their chest and in the evening they finish cleaning their feet before going to sleep.
On the second day of the festival, everyone contributes to the less fortunate of the community, including low-income families, servants and the homeless, among others. On this day, families participate in a dedication ceremony for their ancestors in the monasteries.
During the third day of the holidays, Buddhists wash their elders and Buddha statues with perfumed water that symbolizes the washing of evil deeds with clean water. The locals also believe that this is a kind of action that will bring them prosperity, happiness, good luck and longevity in their lives. By washing the elderly, young people are blessed and advised on how to live their lives.
Rituals and customs
Usually, locals carry sand on the temple grounds and then build mounds or stupas that are decorated before being given to monks. Locals can do sand stupas on the beach or bring sand to the temple. They are then decorated with flowers, white lines and flags and finally sprinkled with water. For Laos, the tumulus symbolizes a mountain where the daughters of King Kabinlaphrom kept his head after his death, but for others he represents the Buddha. The locals also build four smaller mounds that surround the great stupas that represent the disciples of Buddha Maha Kassapa, Ananda, Sariputta and Moggallana.
Another ritual done on this day to give merit is to release some animals. Locals believe that animals should also be free. Some of the animals used during this festival include eels, birds, crabs, turtles and fish among others.Songkran is called a water festival in other places like Thailand, and during this festival, young people pour water on older relatives or on the community.