Date: The Thai New Year traditionally goes by the name of Sonkran. In the year 2019, Sonkran will be celebrated between Monday April 13 and Wednesday April 15, 2015.
Calculations based on Astrology: The traditional Thai New Year celebrations have been in vogue for centuries. The dates are believed to have been set in accordance to the astrological calculations. These calculation in fact are again linked to the Hindu astrological calculations of Sankranti which is nothing but the commemoration of the transition of the Sun. Today, however, Thai New Year celebrations have a fixed date in an attempt to accommodate convenience of all people. When the dates of Sonkran falls on a weekend the dates of the week that immediately follow that weekend are declared to be holidays.
Traditionally Thai calendar is a luni solar one as is a common practice among many South East Asian countries. But it is interesting to note that at the time of calculating the New Year, the solar calendar pattern is considered. Etymologically, the word Sonkran is believed to have been derived from the Sanskrit word Sankranti, which literally translated means move or transition or change. In other words, Sonkran implies the transitional movement of the Sun.
The movement of the Sun has been considered to be of vital importance since the ancient times, and many South East Asian countries celebrate the transition of the Sun albeit in different manners. As such, it is not a matter of surprise that the celebrations of Sonkran coincide with a variety of celebrations held in the various parts of the countries like Japan, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Burma, Laos, Nepal and Cambodia. In fact during the reign of the Chola King Rajendra Chola I between the period of 1012 – 1044 CE, Thailand got to celebrate Sonkran in keeping with the Tamil traditions of Puthandu.
History: The origin of the celebrations of Sonkran has mythological references too, and it is deeply rooted to the traditions, culture and heritage of the people of Thailand. The Thai people believe that there was a God known by the name of Kabilla Phrom. Kabilla Phrom had the habit of betting. One day he came to know of a seven year old boy by the name of Thammabal Kumara who had the capability of reciting scriptures without any mistake or even hesitation.
Kabilla Phrom took it upon himself to test the little boy’s knowledge. He descended on Earth for the purpose and then asked the boy three riddles. Kabilla Phrom put forwards a condition that if the boy could solve the riddles then the God would give the boy his head. But if the boy failed to do so then the God would take away the boy’s head. Kabilla Phrom asked the boy – Where a person’s aura belonged during the morning, noon and night.
Thammabal Kumara thought about the questions asked by the God, but could not come up with a suitable answer. He thought for days and nights for six days. He was very troubled at the prospect of not finding the answers to the riddles. So he was resting under some palm trees when he heard some eagles rejoicing at the prospect of being able to feast on his head once he lost the bet.
The eagles also discussed the answers among each others. The little boy overheard the whole conversation and his sharp memory helped him to remember them too. When the God came back for the answers, Thammabal Kumara said that – in the morning a person’s aura remained on his face which is why there is the custom to wash the face in the morning, in the afternoon a person’s aura was on the chest and this lead to the custom of spraying perfume on the chest in the afternoon, and at night a person’s aura remains on the feet which is why the feet should be washed at night.
The God was fair and he kept his word. He was about to cut off his own head. But there was a problem. The God’s head could not touch the ground since if it did there would be fire on earth. His head could not be kept floating on air or it would cause draught and plague. His head if thrown in water would dry up all the water bodies. To protect from all such calamities when the God cut off his head, his seven daughters carried the head on a footed tray to Mount Sumeru and set it in a cave. On Sonkran it is believed that the head of the God is carried round Mount Sumeru.
Traditions and rituals: Traditional preparations for the New Year begin by giving one’s surrounding a thorough spring cleaning. This is considered to be an auspicious time for cleansing as one prepares to turn a new leaf with the advent of the New Year. Traditional Thai New Year celebrations generally get started from the Eve of the New Year itself, which also has a special name assigned to it – Wan Nao. This is in fact the day when the more formal and traditional celebrations are observed. On the contrary, the New Year’s Day itself is reserved for all the fun and frolic. People visit the shrines on the New Year’s Eve and make sand structures. Monks bless people by making chalk marks. People wash the statues of Buddha, the altars and the shrines with water, and this water is then considered auspicious to be sprinkled over family and friends. People also resolve to abstain from the vices and embrace the virtues.
Modern Day Festivities of Sonkran: It is a common custom in the modern times to organize for beauty pageants on this day. The uniqueness is that the winner is decided on the basis of public voting. Water fights are also held to mark the occasion. Children play with water guns and have a gala time sprinkling water on each other.
Greetings: If you want to wish someone Happy New Year in Thai language in a traditional manner, all you have to say is “Sawasdee Pee Mai”. The term Swasdee is a common form of greeting in Thailand which may signify either a hello or even a goodbye. Literally the words Pee and Mai mean Year and New respectively. Another Thai greeting that is also prevalent is Suk San Wan Pee Mai where suk san refers to being happy. Another popular Thai greeting is Suk San Wan Sonkran which when literally translated means Happy Sonkran Day.
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