Songkran, Thai Festival of Cleaning

Nang Songkran Vintage Postcard Thailand

As New Year celebrations go, the Thai festival of Songkran seems to be one of the most sensible. It has become famous for its water-splashing fun, which of course provides relief from the heat in Thailand, but its origins lie in the religious and symbolic idea of cleansing and renewal for a traditional South East Asian New Year.

It took place last weekend and was celebrated with parades in some of the larger Thai cities. These days young people and tourists run around with water-pistols and buckets, dousing each other. Originally, the water (often fragrant) was used to clean statues of Buddha and the run-off was used to bless elders.

Part of the tradition is to crown a “Queen of Songkran” (or Nang Songkran), as seen on the elephant in the vintage postcard photograph, above, and each year the qualities of the queen differ slightly according to an interesting legend. The king had cut off his own head (long story…) and required his seven daughters to carry it, in turns, around a particular mountain. Whichever daughter held the head at the time of Songkran became its queen for the day, and predictions about the coming year could be made based upon her preferences.

In 2013, the Nang Songkran is the daughter who wears a black dress while riding a peacock, carries a discus and a trident and is a dedicated meat-eater. Thus, the projected outlook for the year is fairly dark and dreary.

Rather than dwell on this, I’m planning to take my cue from the older, sensible, version of Songkran, which was about starting the year off by cleaning. Once a year seems like a reasonable frequency with which to undertake this activity.

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