Chiang Mai’s “Songkran” or New Year Festival is conventionally set during April 13 to 15 every year and attended by foreign tourists in a crowd. Indian influence brought it along astrology and it occurs when the sun moves out of the sign of Pisces into the sign of Aries. The word “songkran” is derived from the Sanskrit “sankranti” and means the shift from one sign of the zodiac to another. In the Northern Thai calendar “Lady or Nang Sangkhan” is a goddess mounted on a new animal every year. This year it was a peacock. Thus, “wan sangkhan laung” or the day on which Nang Sangkhan passed by is regarded as the last day of the old year and the first day of the Songkran Festival.
According to a Hindu myth, the god Brahma lost his head in arbitration, but his seven daughters had to take turn holding the head, one year each. At the end of every year, the goddess in charge would bathe the head and pass it over to the next goddess until the cycle was completed. The New Year begins when the head is changed and passed from one goddess to another.
According to oral traditions, The Indian myth of Songkran was diffused to the Thai people through Burmese influence, during the reign of King Anawratha from Bagan in today’s Myanmar. Since then, the traditional New Year has been observed in Myanmar as “thingyan” or water festival and as “songkran” in Thailand, in which people throw water on each other.
In 2018, the Songkran Festival in Chiang Mai had the following days:
Friday, April 13: “Wan Sangkhan Laung” as the last day of the old day. The city was busy with thousands of people waiting for the coming of the New Year, walking and driving around to drive away bad things from the old year. Families met to re-unite for the festival.
Saturday, April 14: “Wan Nao” as the resting day before the coming of New Year. People are supposed to be in a good mood and observe the five precepts of Buddhism. Time is spent in purchasing necessary things and shopping is done in a great style at the night bazaar and other places.
Sunday, April 15: “Wan Phaya Wan” as the “Prince Day” and the first day of the New Year. On that day it is forbidden to kill animals or cut plants. People make merit and pay respects to parents and elders in a so-called “dam hua” ceremony. In the afternoon, a big procession went around the moat of the old town. In the evening, all the Buddha’s statues which were put on a platform in the monastery compound since the “wan sangkhan laung” are returned to their original places. Actually, the main Buddha’s statue of Phra Chao Kao Tue is brought back from the old city, residing on a platform in Wat Phra Singh, back to Wat Suan Dok only on the next day.
In addition, there are three following days to phase out the Water Festival called “wan pak pi” (year), “wan pak duan” (month) and “wan pak wan” (day) respectively. These days are devoted to perform the “dam hua” ceremony to many more people to honor, to the clan and domestic spirits, and to monks to make sure that the coming year will be prosperous and will bring a lot of good luck and much fertility.
Needless to say that a lot of water throwing is going on during the time of the New Year Festival and only a few foreign visitors to Chiang Mai stay dry.
Written by : Reinhard Hohler