Next month the southeast Asian countries of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia celebrate their New Year.
The New Year, called Songkran in Thai, is celebrated every year from April 13th to 15th. The middle day is said to be between the “old year” and the “new year”. The festival is called Pii Mai in Laos, and Chaul Chnam Thmey in Cambodia.
The word Songkran is derived from a Burmese word “Sankranti”, meaning “to move or to change”. As a Buddhist festival, the important focus is on spiritual activities, like giving alms to monks and paying a visit to Buddhist Wats (temples). It is the custom to take sand to the Wats, where the monks make pagodas from mounds of sand, and decorate them with patterns of flowers and intricate designs.
Many of the popular customs for Songkran are similar to the astrological Asian New Year, and are common in the Thai, Lao and Khmer traditions. Most people go back to their hometowns to join their families. The day before, people clean their houses and remove all the rubbish, to avoid bad luck. Buddha images are washed carefully, to bring good fortune to the home.
The main feature of the festival is the Water Fight. Everyone squirts or throws water at each other, like the Hindu festival of Holi. This is said to symbolise cleansing and rejuvenating of the body, but it is also a lot of fun. A side feature in some areas is a women's beauty parade.
In Melbourne there are usually two celebrations of the event. The advance celebration is the Thai Culture and Food Festival, and was held this year on the weekend of 16-17 March.
The religious festival is observed by some suburban Buddhist temples, but the largest is the one held at Wat Thai Nakorn, at 489 Elgar Road, Box Hill. Wat Thai Nakorn was first established at Balwyn in 1984 for the spread of Thai Buddhism, and moved to its current premises in 1987.
Wat Thai Nakorn's celebration of Songkran will be held on Sunday 15 April from 9.30am to 3pm. Activities include giving alms, the Buddha Birthday offering, sand pagoda building, ancestor dedication and water blessing. There will also be fundraising activities from sales of Thai food, the second-hand shop and Lucky Number raffle.
It is free and open to everybody. For details please visit www.watthaimelbourne.com.au.