Thailand is one of the most beautiful countries on earth: with lush jungles teeming with wildlife and outstanding natural beauty, as well as mountains and spectacular marine life around its coast, it offers some of the best diving and snorkeling locations worldwide. In addition to all its natural beauty, Thailand has a very rich cultural heritage with beautiful gilded temples, monuments and statues dotted all over the country – in fact, it is hard to travel around Thailand without bumping into a spectacular and beautiful location on a regular basis. Aside from all these Thai wonders, Thailand is also home to some of the most amazing festivals, and the Thai people, with their playful joyous nature, love nothing more than a celebration. The biggest of these yearly festivals occurs every year from the 13th to the 15th of April: the Thai new year, or as it known locally, the Songkran Festival.
The mythology surrounding the origins of the Songkran Festival has its roots in Hindu/Buddhist culture. The story claims that a young man who was so prodigious in his learning skills that he spoke the language of the birds made one of the gods of the heavenly realm jealous. The god Kabil Maha Phrom descended to the earthly realm and challenged the young man. He offered the young man a bet of three riddles that he had to solve in seven days.
If the young man failed to solve the riddles in the allotted time, he would lose his head; on the other hand, if he did solve the incredibly difficult riddles, then the god himself would lose his head. The young man spent some days pondering the riddles to no avail, and as he became more and more convinced of the inevitable, he set out to journey to a place where he could take his own life rather than be defeated by the god. On the way, he passed a tree with an eagle’s nest where a mother eagle was conversing with her young eaglets.
She was comforting her young chicks by telling them that their hunger would soon be staid by feasting on the body of the young man about to lose a bet with the god. As the young eagles began to question their mother about the young man’s predicament, she gave them the answer to the three riddles. Upon hearing the solutions offered by the eagle, the young man rushed back to meet Kabil Maha Phrom and offered the solution to the three riddles. The god, true to his word, acknowledged his own defeat and swiftly cut of his own head. Unfortunately, the god’s severed head was of such profound power that if it touched the surface of the earth, a fire storm would engulf all the land, and if it touched the sea all the water would evaporate through the intense heat.
To safely deal with the god’s severed head, it was placed in a secure cave in the heavens. Every year on Songkran day, one of the god’s seven daughters takes out his head and with millions of other gods, there is a procession around the Meru (the Buddhist Olympian Mount), followed by an enormous feast for all the gods. At the end of the feast, the head is returned to its cave to lie in rest for another year until the next Songkran Festival.
The modern day festival in Thailand starts on the 12th of April, when people clean their houses and burn all their refuse. The next day, they visit the temples and attend the bathing ceremony for the Buddha. After prayers, worshipers pour some water on the hands of the image of the Buddha; in many places, this ritual washing is also performed on the elderly and monks, who are respected and tend to act as mediators in disputes and local disagreements. It is at this point that the fun begins in earnest, particularly amongst younger Thais, with water fights across the country and everyone daubing each other with colored chalk for several days.
These festivities are so widespread that the entire country almost comes to a standstill, with Mobs in control of the roads, forcing motorcycles to slow down and drenching their riders, as well as roaming pickup trucks laden with young Thais packing water pistols, who maraude through the streets, engaging in joyous pitched water fights with bystanders.
If you have a chance to visit Thailand during Songkran, it is truly an experience to remember – to see almost an entire population drenched and laughing will stay with you forever.