Thursday, April 14, 2011

Songkran in Thailand

I had the good fortune to be asked by my Thai colleague whether or not I would like to join her and her husband's family on a day filled with Buddhist religious rituals and blessed experiences. So of course I jumped on the opportunity. Today marks the second day of Songkran.

Songkran is the traditional New Years in Thailand. It is celebrated on the 13th, 14th and 15th of April of every year. It is a time to throw water at everyone passing you by , have a whale of a time and pay respects to the elders, relatives, friends and family. It is also a time when Thai people visit a Wat, a Buddhist Monastery, pay respects to the monks and offer them food and money. 

The water is a symbol of washing all the bad away. It is also loads of fun for everyone, especially the little kids who run in the streets with hoses and water guns ready of any scooter, car or bus to drive by them. The water is sometimes mixed with chalk or talcum powder. Chalk is usually used by the monks to mark their blessings, but during Songkran everyone uses it to bless each other.

People who visit the Wats also cleanse Buddha statues by gently pouring water on it. The water is mixed with colorful flowers and fragrances. It is believed that doing this would bring good luck to  the person pouring the water for the whole New Year.  The monks, who wear their ceremonial robes and sit in lines on a platform above the people, give their blessings and sing their prayers, in front of the people. They then go up to their rooms, change into "Songkran" robes, which have less folds than the ceremonial ones,  and sit on plastic chairs in a line for the people to pour petal-filled fragrant water into the hands or on their shoulders.The people pour water on the monks to receive blessings from them. 

Below is a picture diary of my day at the Wat... 
Pouring flowered scented water over the Buddha.

The Wat where we attended the Songkran ceremony

 The Buddha at the temple... once people get there, they light 3 incense sticks and some candles, repeat a mantra 3 times and then make a wish. I repeated the mantra after my friend... I was told it is a mantra from Bali that many Thai people do not quite understand the meaning of but have memorized it anyway. 

My friend paying her respects with the 3 incense sticks

During the ceremony... praying monks sit on a platform above the people's heads. They spread blessings to all who come to the Wat. They tend to sit in lines according to the time they had spent in monkhood. The men sitting at the start of the line are the ones who have been monks the longest.

On the left you can see the monks' chambers where they sleep and change into Songkran robes. Many of these monks live in the monastery for one month and some stay longer. The children only stay for the summer holiday. The men are expected to become a monk for at least once in their life.

The water that is poured onto the monks is mixed with flowers and beautiful fragrances.

People stand in line waiting for their turn to pour some water over the monks and receive their blessings. I was totally dry until I got to the end of the line, before I met the monks,  when an old woman poured a bowl of water down my back... I gave out a yelp and covered my mouth fearing that I had offended anyone... but everyone around me burst out laughing... my whole backside was wet... down to my underwear. I was laughing too... it was so much fun.
Pouring water in the monks' hands and sometimes on their shoulders. The monks were intrigued to find a foreigner amongst them and a few times I passed by one and he would smile and say something I did not understand. (I gotta learn Thai!)... Two monks placed flowers, from the ones that dropped onto their hands, on my shoulder and then giggled. I felt blessed!

The young monks waiting their turn to have water poured on them. They sit at the end of the line and people tend to be more playful with them and pour more water on their shoulders than in their hands... many of them looked so cold. Poor dears!

Me... after a man placed chalk paste on both of my cheeks and an another old lady sneaked up from behind me and threw water on me. the cold water shocked me to the extent that I threw my camera on the ground. It hit the ground with a thud but it still worked... managed to take this picture!

I stood there, all wet, and watched the kids play with water and having a blast of a time. They were not involved in the ceremony, they were at the back enjoying their time.

1 comment:

Birdie said...

This sounds incredible. I am glad you were able to be there!