Thailand's Cleansing Water Wars  

Thailand's Cleansing Water Wars
by Jules Kay

With Thailand in a state of political disharmony, April could not have arrived at a better time for the Land of Smiles. People all over the country celebrate the Lunar New Year from the 13-15 April and generally do this by engaging in the biggest water fight in the world. This year, with the political heat rising and the country divided between those wearing Red or Yellow, traditional water wars may be the perfect opportunity too cool things down.

Modest demonstrations on the streets of Bangkok fade into insignificance when compared to the mayhem that ensues all over Thailand during the Songkran Festival. Men, women and children take to the streets armed with every known receptacle that can hold water, their sole aim to drench their fellow countrymen as a New Year greeting. Sophisticated pumps with long range sprays are attached to the back of pick up trucks, high-powered water pistols fly off the supermarket shelves and ice is added to the mix for a little extra thrill. Everyone who ventures out of their house in the daylight hours is treated to a dousing, no matter their age or social standing and tourists are favoured targets, not through any sense of malice, but because Thai people see the festival as the ultimate celebration of fun and want everyone to share in it.

Of course, there's also a deeply spiritual side to Songkran and although in recent years the water throwing has become more of a party game than a profound ceremony, the act still essentially represents purification. During the three day holiday, houses are given a spring clean, people clean up and dress their best, while monks bathe the Buddha images in every temple across the land. At a special ceremony in the Grand Palace in Bangkok, the King himself bathes and replaces the robes on the famous Emerald Buddha, while another revered image known as Phra Phuttasihing is placed on a throne and paraded through the palace grounds, then taken out into the public gardens where devotees can sprinkle it with lustral water.

On a more personal level, many Thai people see Songkran as a time for the young to respect their elders, for families to respect their ancestors and for communities to come together and respect their traditions and values. Modern influences have lessened the importance of these elements and in recent years there have been calls for a more reserved approach to the revelry. But most Thai people can't resist using these three days as time to let go. It's an opportunity to drop the quiet, modest facade that dominates much of their daily lives and to party themselves into oblivion.

In Sanskrit, Songkran means 'Great New Day", the beginning of something better. Legend has it that a wise king removed his head when an even wiser monk answered three questions he had arrogantly presumed had no answer. Thailand faces more tricky questions as it searches for a peaceful route to democracy.



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