Asian countries seem to have the most fun when it comes to celebrations. This was amply demonstrated last week when Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Burma ushered in their cultural New Year, with a giant, free-for-all, water fight!
Celebrated annually for three days from April 13th to 16th the Songkran Festival marks the beginning of the solar year. Though the dates were originally based on the astrological calendar, they are now fixed - 13th (the Maha Songkran) marks the end of the previous year, 14th (Wan Nao) is a gap day and 15th (Wan Thaloeng Sok) marks the beginning of the New Year. And though all the countries celebrate it, nobody does it with greater abandon than the 60 million residents of Thailand, who until 1888, also began their calendar year on this day.
The celebrations of course did not always involve a water fight. During ancient times, one of the religious rituals involved bathing Lord Buddha's statue and then gently sprinkling the blessed water on elders and family members for good fortune. Over the years, this gentle sprinkling has turning into a free-for-all water fight which many believe, was an idea inspired by the Indian spring festival of Holi. In keeping with the religious spirit of the festival, many residents still cover themselves with a mix of talcum powder and water - which when washed off, is believed to absolve them of all their sins.
While water dousing occurs throughout Thailand, it is the city of Chiang Mai that seems to go all out. After the religious ceremonies are completed, groups of residents move around on scooters, the back of pick-up trucks and even elephants, carrying water guns and buckets filled with water. Those not fortunate enough or too young to have a mode of transport, simply gather by the roadside with large ice-chests of water. To make the fights a little more exciting, ice patrols roam the streets, handing out giant chunks so that the water can be nice and chilled when it hits the bodies! Fortunately, the festival dates coincide with Thailand's hottest months so the cold water is actually welcomed.
When it first began, the water fights were held from midday to sunset on April 13th. Now, they sometimes extend out to all days and all times! So if you happen to be in Thailand during these dates next year, be sure to watch out, for nobody is safe from getting drenched at this wet and wild festival!
Resources: wikipedia.org, thediplomat.com