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Monday, 07 July 2008 14:45

Songkran or Water Festival


    The human beings love to learn and to experience new things. Nowadays, customs and ways of life of people become an important tourism resource. In the age of globalization, high-speed communication is a supporting factor for those who love to travel. Each year, thousands of foreign visitors celebrate and join major festivals in different parts of the world.

   The activities in Songkran Festival and Loi Krathong and Candle Festival are participated by foreign visitors with no effect caused to the main idea of the festival. The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) plans to promote both activitiesinternationally as "The Festival of the World",
maintaining the balances between cultural preservation and tourism promotion. Foreign visitors are able to learn local customs of each region and understand more on ways of life of each community. The vision of the Tourism Authority of Thailand in the years 2002 - 2006 is to
emphasize on sustainable tourism, Thai ways of life and international standard in terms of economic, social and environment.

The Songkran Festival

    The word "Songkran" derives from Sanskrit language, meaning to pass or to move, It corresponds to the solar calendar,
adopting the time when the Sun moves past twelve zodiacs composing of Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra,Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces. An orbit of each zodiac takes 30 days, which means one year for twelve zodiacs. The counting system, influenced by India, is used in the countries of Southeast Asia such as Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. The 13th of April is "Maha Songkran Day" or New Year's Day. It is the time when the Sun moves from Pisces into Aries and the Earth moves past the Sun at right angles, making daytime and nighttime equally long.

Songkran Day is the day to make merit for three full days; Maha Songkran Day or the end of old year (13th of April), Wan
Klang or Wan Nao or preparation day (14th of April) and New Year's Day or Wan Taleung Sok (15th of April).

Legend of Songkran Goddesses
    Songkran Goddesses are named differently depending on the day Songkran Festival falls on each year. Songkran Goddess of Sunday is Tungsa, Monday is Koraka, Tuesday is Raksos, Wednesday is Mondha, Thursday is Kirinee,
Friday is Kimina and Saturday is Mahotorn. The seven goddesses are the daughters of Tao Maha Songkran or King Kabillabrama. They have responsibility to look after the head of their father which is placed on Wanfah pedestal. King Kabillabrama was beheaded, as he could not give the correct answer to Dhamma Kumar's question. Before his death, the King asked his seven daughters who are angels in the heaven to put his head on Wanfah pedestal as it is the origin of heat. If his head is placed on the earth, the fire would occur, in the air there would be no rain, in the ocean the water would get dry. The seven daughters thus take turn holding their father's head, each for a period of one year.

Value and Importance
    The Songkran Festival is the festival to celebrate Thai New Year since an ancient time. The festival represents the day ofcaring, love and binding among family, community and religion. The members of the family have a chance to stay together and show their gratitude towards the elders. The young calls upon the elders and pour water over their hands asking for blessing. In addition, the activities are created to construct unity in the community, such as making merit, giving food to monks, laying sand stupas, splashing water at one another for joy. The sense of binding among members of the same community, the sense of caring public asset as well as preserving environment helps keep the living places, Buddhist monasteries and buildings clean.

Activities to be preserved and promoted
There are various activities to be preserved and promoted in the Songkran Festival, which are;
- The wearing of new clothes to pay respect to the elders.
- The cleaning of living places, nearby compounds in the community and Buddhist monasteries as place for merit making.
- Offering food to monks in the morning, or cooking food for monks to dedicate the merit to the late ancestors.
- The laying of sand stupas. Sand is brought to the monastery compounds and sand stupas are laid in forms of stupas or
animals, decorated with colorful flags, incense and flowers to worship the Lord Buddha. Later, the sand is used in construction purpose and other public work.
- Making charity by setting free fish and birds, listening to sermons and practicing the five precepts.
- Making merits for and devoting merits to the late elders.
- Bathing the Buddha image with scented perfume, floating with jasmine.
- Bathing the monks and novices with clean water and offering robes to them.
- Pouring water onto the elders' hands by using clean water or water mixed with scented perfume, floating with jasmine.
- Splashing water onto one another with clean water in polite manner, violating no rights and liberty of the others.
- Celebrating the festival with local entertainment.

  Nowadays, the Songkran festival is celebrated with inappropriate activities, causing damages to the root of culture and to people's lives and properties. The preventive measures need to be imposed for the following activities.
1. Splashing water at one another violently by using water gun, using dirty water or other rotten liquid, throwing ice bag and causing others hurt.
2. Putting powder on ladies' faces, or any other acts with an intention to seduce the women such as fondling women's faces, chests and hips.
3. The Songkran Beauty Queen contest or other inappropriate contests, dressed in swimming suit.

Things to Do
1. To educate people with correct understanding on value and core of the festival as well as appropriate activities.
2. To promote the learning of festival both formal and non-formal educational system as well as self-study education.

Unique Characteristics of the Songkran Festival in Each Locality
Songkran Festival in the North

   Songkran is the ancient Thai New Year of Lanna people. April 13th or Wan Sangkan Long means the old year passes by and it is day when an era is changed. In the early morning of the day, firecrackers are set off to drive away all bad luck from the previous year. The locals clean their houses, bathe, wash their hair, wear new clothes and visit certain places or
"New Year's Visit". Today is the day to begin the splash of water at one another. The next day, April 14th, is called Wan Nao or Wan Da (preparation day). It is a day to prepare necessities for merit making. In the afternoon, sand is brought from the river to the monastery compounds nearby the house and sand stupas are laid as a form of worship to the Lord Buddha, elaborately decorated with colorful flags. Splashing water at one another continues for the second day. The third day, April 15th, is called Wan Phaya Wan or Wan Taleung Sok, The food and offerings are brought to the monasteries to make merit to the elders and the late ancestors. This is called Tan Kan Kao. After that people use branches and sticks to prop up the Sri Maha Bodhi tree, free birds and fish and bathe Buddha images. Moreover, the young pay respect to the elders by pouring water onto the elders' hands (Rot Nam Dam Hua), asking for forgiveness of bad deeds in the past. Rot Nam Dam Hua continues until Wan Pak Pee. The day will have Rot Nam Dam Hua procession dressed in native costume. The flowers are beautifully arranged in the form of a bush, headed by traditional dance to pour water onto respected monks and high-ranking government officials. Today there are Dam Hua Khu or to bathe the stupas that contains the ashes of their ancestors, which is considered unique culture of the North. It is the deed of asking for forgiveness, to pay respect to each other with sincerity and the unity in the group. The famous Songkran festival of the North is the Songkran Festival in Chiang Mai.

Songkran Festival in the Northeast
    The Northeast or I-San of Thailand has got social etiquette called "Heat Sib Song" or twelve traditions which mostly concerned with making merits in Buddhism. Duan Ha or the fifth lunar month is when Songkran takes place on 13th, 14th and 15th of April. The activities in each area might have slight differences in certain points. The main activity is to bathe the Buddha image in the monastery's hall for sermons or in bathing chamber. The splashing of water at one another is also practiced. After the Songkran Festival, some villages parade flower procession to the monastery. At night, the activities
involves merit making, listening to sermons for the celebration of flower tree which later will be taken to other villages. The host village will prepare food for visitors to show unity among the group. However, nowadays, the practice becomes lesser.

The famous Songkran Festival in the Northeast is the Songkran Festival in Nong Khai Province. The bathing of Luang Phor Pra Sai, the sacred Buddha image respected by the Thai and Lao people. Apart from this, there is the celebration along the Maekhong River on the riverbanks of Thailand and Laos as Lao people also celebrate this festival.

Songkran Festival in the Central Plain
    The Songkran Festival is the festival to celebrate Thai New Year for three days, 13th, 14th and 15th of April. The activities include making merit, offering food to monks, set free birds and fish, bathing the Buddha image, laying sand stupas, the procession of Songkran Beauty Queen and splashing water at one another. The famous Songkran Festivals of the Central
Plain includethe Songkran Festival in Bangkok on Khao San Road, Banglampoo, Sanam Luang, Wat Mahatat and Wat Pho. the Songkran Festival in Phra Nakorn Si Ayutthaya at Kum Khun Phan (Residence of Khun Phan) in the compound of Phra Nakorn Si Ayutthaya Historical Park, with an atmosphere of ancient Songkran. In addition, there is Phra Pra Daeng Songkran Festival in Samut Prakarn which is the tradition of the people of Thai - Mon. The activities are slightly different from other areas, such as bird parade and fish parade. The parade is joined by the Songkran Beauty Queen, dressed in a costume
based on the Songkran legend, carrying with birds and fish to be set free. The dry-cooked rice in cool water and food are carried to the monasteries since early morning by young ladies. Saba game is still extant while Phra Pra Daeng people dressed in traditional costume.

Songkran Festival in the South
    The Songkran Festival is the festival to celebrate Thai New Year by people in the South for three days, 13th, 14th and 15th of April. The activities include making merit, offering food to monks, set free birds and fish, bathing the Buddha image, laying sand stupas, the procession of Songkran Beauty Queen and splashing water onto one another. The famous Songkran
Festivals of the South take place at Hat Yai Municipality Park, Had Yai District and at Thai Pavilion, Muang District, Songkhla. The festival starts from 6th - 15th April and it is participated by tourists from Malaysia and Singapore. Moreover, there is the Songkran Festival in Nakhon Si Thammarat and the activities include the bathing of Phra Buddha Si-Hing,offering food to monks at the City Playground and the procession of Songkran Beauty Queen.




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