วันอาทิตย์ที่ 7 กุมภาพันธ์ พ.ศ. 2553
the Songkran festival is a wonderfully wild celebration, with the purest spiritual roots
Idodged down Bangkok's side alleys to avoid the most crowded streets on my way home. Just another 100 metres away from my front door, I was relieved to see the metal grill was pulled across the front of the local grocery store: it must be closed for the holidays and the shopkeeper's kids should be away on some festive jaunt, I thought. But then, whoosh! Twin jets of icy water shot out, catching me full on the back of the neck. The grill was flung aside and the grocer's two young sons, huge water pistols in hand, giggled in impish delight at their successful ambush.
"Sawasdee Pi Mai – Happy New Year," I spluttered after I'd recovered from the shock, not forgetting to thank the boys as is usual to show there are no hard feelings. Every Songkran, the traditional Thai New Year festival, I have a bet with myself that I can avoid the drenching that is essential to the celebrations. I always lose. No one escapes Songkran.
In Bangkok and every town and village around the country, Thais, especially the young, celebrate the New Year by throwing water over one and all. Scoops from a silver bowl are traditional, but these days more effective soakings come from plastic buckets, pump-action water guns and even oil drums with stirrup pumps mounted on trucks. It is, however, all good-natured, a perfect example of sanuk, the Thais' innate — and contagious — sense of fun. So characteristic are the celebrations that next day's newspapers carry photographs capturing the more riotous action with Thais and foreigners alike, all soaked to the skin and smeared with powder called din sor pong.DEEPLY SPIRITUAL
Compared to Songkran, the west's New Year is positively tame. And then it's just one night's revelry, whereas the Thais celebrate over three days, more in some upcountry towns and villages. It is a spectacularly spirited affair, not always for the faint-hearted, and yet there is also a deeply spiritual aspect to what is Thailand's most exuberant annual festival. The word songkran comes from Sanskrit and refers to the movement of astrological bodies, in this case the shifting of the sun into Aries, which marks beginning of the solar year. It is a time of purification, of Buddhist rituals, of family gatherings to honour one's elders, and of dedicating merit to departed ancestors. The focal use of water is multi-faceted, symbolising the act of purification, invoking the life-giving monsoon rains and, as the Thais are essentially practical, cooling.
Typically, on the eve of Songkran, people give their houses a thorough spring clean, and worn-out household goods, clothing and other rubbish are burned according to the belief that anything old must be discarded or else it will bring bad luck to the owner.
Songkran itself begins with merit making, presenting food and other
offerings to monks. Merit is also accrued by freeing caged birds into the air or releasing fish into ponds and rivers. Indeed, in olden times, farmers would retain young fish that had been trapped after the floods of the rainy season receded and keep them at home especially to be able to release them at Songkran.
Later on new year's day, revered Buddha images will be paraded and ritually bathed in lustral water. In private ceremonies away from the temple, parents, grandparents, older relatives and teachers are honoured by the younger generations in a sacred rite. Placing their palms together, elders are anointed as the young pour perfumed water over their hands, in return receiving wishes for good, health, longevity and prosperity.
These are but the principal acts of celebration, although as a rich and complex festival, Songkran in fact serves a multitude of social as well as religious functions. For example, on the second day of Songkran it was traditional, and still is in some communities, to take sand from dried-up riverbeds and bring it to the local temple compound where model chedis_ are erected. Although the custom has now evolved into an amusing competition for youngsters, like building sandcastles on the beach, it is actually a practical act of devotion with the sand effectively cleaning and tidying the temple grounds.
On the social side, Songkran also incorporates something akin to the rites of spring and old-fashioned courting games are played by village youths. In one such game, girls and boys sit opposite each other and take turns in balancing a wooden disc on one foot while hopping around trying to knock down a similar piece of wood stood on edge in front of a person of the opposite sex. Whatever the outcome – and marriages have resulted – the game is an excellent excuse for teasing and flirting.
TESTING THE WATERS
te New Year in the west is tamecompared to Songkranart Inspite of the good-naturedshing Songkran remains a timegrit-making and contemplationTop right Buddha imagesareparaded through the cityNo one is quite certain how the celebration of Songkran evolved in Thailand, and although its origins most likely date back to the ancient Hindu culture of India, there is some belief that it developed out of fertility rites tied to the agricultural cycle practiced by pre-Buddhist Thai people in the distant past.
SYMBOL OF PURITY
What is indisputable is the symbolic significance of water that runs like a silver thread through the cultural fabric. This is best summed up by the Thai word for river, mae nam, which literally translates as "mother water", suggesting both the nurturing value of the primal element and the respect it thus commands.
When coupled with Buddhism, the national religion, water, both sustaining and transparent, become a symbol for the spiritual support and purity of Buddha's teachings. It is also widely associated with the practice of serenity and meditation, in which-mental clarity and a fresh lucid mind are symbolically linked to the clear water of a running stream.
Nowhere, however, is the symbolic importance of water more vividly witnessed than in the celebration of Songkran, during which the present-day riotous water splashing in no way belies the essential acts of purification, blessing and merit-making. Like all festivals in Thailand, however, it is celebrated with a zest and passion for having a good time that is utterly characteristic. There are parades, carnivals and beauty contests, as well as the selection of a lucky "Miss Songkran" chosen to reign over the festivities. Blaring music and the consumption of much food and rice wine accompanies it all.You'll encounter Songkran festivities wherever you go to Thailand during April 13 to 15, although the people of Chiang Mai are widely recognised as celebrating harder and longer than anyone else. In Bangkok, the visiting reveller will find the most riotous action around the entertainment centres along Silom and Sukhumvit roads, and most especially in the travellers' haven of Khao San Road, where you can expect a running battle without respite. What's for sure is that you can't avoid it, but who minds a cold shower on one of the hottest days of the year