Songkran is the only religious celebration in Thailand set by the solar calendar. It is always April 13-15. A Chiang Mai city resident might almost be forgiven for thinking Songkran is all about a big water fight. Thailand’s tourism promotion officials encourage that. But outside of town where we live there is more to it.
This week’s blog is a photo essay showing “The Other Songkran.”
April 15 began with a trip to the temple. We had all contributed a small amount of money to buy a load of sand to simulate a mountain inside the temple compound. In older times people brought the sand in person. Households took turns inserting paper banners called toongsymbolizing ascent to the top of the world mountain, a step below where ancestors (hopefully) reside unless they have become reincarnated. [See pictures 1-2 above]
Inside the assembly hall, first we distributed flowers, candles, popped rice and small coins onto trays. They are called ขันแก้วทั้งสาม in honor of the Triple Gems: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha (priesthood). [picture 3] Then we took turns presenting sacks of goods to one of the temple monks, in the name of various ancestors. The sacks contained a variety of daily necessities, but normally were things to eat or to use to keep clean – Songkran is much about bathing and cleaning up. The priest intoned a traditional blessing and then poured little bottles or cups of water into a bucket, which is another traditional blessing ritual. [pictures 4-6]
A mid-morning service included chanting followed by bathing the Buddha images. [Sorry, no pictures came out].
During the day people brought “props” called ไม้คำ to be placed around the temple’s bo tree. The purpose is to symbolically hold up the venerable tree, a descendant of the one under which the Lord Buddha sat to be enlightened. Nearly every village also prepared a large prop as a community project to be delivered at night with a lot of revelry. [pictures 7-9]
Meanwhile, we visited the surviving family elders. Here in the north the tradition is for younger family members and protégés to call on the elders and bring them sacks of goods, identical to those taken to the temple, but including a cup of scented water. The water is to provide a ritual bath, although it consists of pouring a few drops onto the hands of the elders which they swish onto their heads. The elders then usually tie white cotton cords around one or both wrists of the younger people while intoning a blessing. This rote naam dam hua ceremony may happen a few days after Songkran if the younger people come from a distance. [pictures 10-12]
During the late afternoon the older people in the village gathered at the village pavilion to be honored with a group blessing. [picture 13] The young people had organized it, and it included water being poured over the old people’s hands, although it got a little more rambunctious at the end.
Songkran ended for our village, the next day, with the dedication of a thammat. The thammat is used for delivering sermons, and so it is usually called a pulpit, although it is a chair since priests preach or chant prepared sermons while sitting. We needed a new thammat for village ceremonies, especially funerals, outside the temple. The old one collapsed under the last priest who sat on it. The village head oversaw the collection for the new thammat, and it was initiated with a ceremony in the village assembly pavilion. Of course, the ceremony ended with all in attendance getting sprinkled with “holy water”. [pictures 14-16]
At our house the gathering of family and gay Ban Den Friends was the highlight of the long weekend. We ate for a couple of hours and then got around to a rote-naam-dam-hua ceremony.[pictures 17-18]
Note: here are links to a previous essay: www.kendobson.asia/blog/two-songkrans
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.