Next month, here in Thailand, during Thailand’s New Year the people will fully immerse themselves in Songkran, an ancient festival connected to the arrival of spring. Songkran, from the Sanskrit word ‘samkranti,’ an astrological passage, one of transformation, when the sun enters the sign of Aries the Ram, is an observance of the vernal equinox, similar to the Holi Festival of India or Ching Ming in China. It is a celebration of water and the sacredness of water.
Although over time, especially, if not uniquely, in Chiangmai, the ritual has evolved, or I should say, has been taken over by something altogether different. For three or four days, Songkran is a deafeningly loud frenzy of water-throwing, a lot of alcohol consumption, and more mindlessness than mindfulness. Like so much else in the world, too much has been lost to commercialization and gimmickry.
Sure. OK. It can be fun. I dove into the madness once, fifteen years ago. I spent a day in the heart of the old city, inching through thousands of people, everyone throwing water on everyone else, speakers located every 100 feet, big as refrigerators, pumping out decibels sufficient enough to cause deafness. Everything soon verged toward an almost Ouidah Voodoo experience. Once was enough for me. But then again, admittedly, I already was moving into my sixth decade. Now, nearing seventy-four, I prefer something altogether more peaceful.
By the second or third day, the festivities spread throughout the neighborhoods and along the highways, where trucks are filled with boisterous celebrants who playfully toss taunts and buckets of icy water onto anyone in striking distance. It can be a bit dangereous if you’re passing on your mototbike.
However, living out in the country, between two small villages, I witness/experience the celebration on a saner, more enjoyable level. As I pass by, I can see the people standing at the edge of the road, large containers of water by their sides, each person holding a small dipper. When they see me, they smile and motion with their hands, palms down, to slow and pull over for the blessing. I do. Gently they pour water and the water’s memory over my head and shoulders; I feel it’s cool kiss enter my body. I thank them for the sharing and then I continue down the road.