Songkarn is the Thai New Year’s festival. The Thai New Year’s Day is 13 April every year, but the holiday period includes 14–15 April as well. The word “Songkran” comes from the Sanskrit word saṃkrānti (Devanāgarī: संक्रांति), literally “astrological passage”, meaning transformation or change. The term was borrowed from Makar Sankranti, the name of a Hindu harvest festival celebrated in India in January to mark the arrival of spring. It coincides with the rising of Aries on the astrological chart and with the New Year of many calendars of South and Southeast Asia, in keeping with the Buddhist/Hindu solar calendar.
Songkran was traditionally computed according to method described in Suriyayart (Thai: สุริยยาตร์), the Thai version of Surya Siddhanta. The celebration starts when the Sun enters Aries according to sidereal zodiac system. This is called Maha Songkran day (Thai: วันมหาสงกรานต์). The final day marks the new solar year and is called Wan Thaloengsok (Thai: วันเถลิงศก). The astrologers, local or royal, then make the prediction on economy, agriculture, rainfall and political affairs according to observations between both days. The king, or chief royal astrologer on his behalf, issued official notification on the new year for members of the public. The announcement, called Prakat Songkran (Thai: ประกาศสงกรานต์, Songkran notification), contained the information on Maha Songkran, Thaloengsok, lunisolar calendar, religious and royal ceremonies. The government strictly adhered to the announcement and arranged some ceremonies according to the computation made by royal astrologer.[n 1] Today, however, the government fixes the feast to 13–15 April for simplicity, possibly without understanding of how this celebration originates and difference in calendar systems.
The Songkran celebration is rich with symbolic traditions. Mornings begin with merit-making. Visiting local temples and offering food to the Buddhist monks is commonly practiced. On this specific occasion, performing water pouring on Buddha statues and the young and elderly is considered an iconic ritual for this holiday. It represents purification and the washing away of one’s sins and bad luck. As a festival of unity, people who have moved away usually return home to their loved ones and elders. Paying reverence to ancestors is also an important part of Songkran tradition.
The holiday is known for its water festival which is mostly celebrated by young people. Major streets are closed to traffic, and are used as arenas for water fights. Celebrants, young and old, participate in this tradition by splashing water on each other. Traditional parades are held and in some venues “Miss Songkran” is crowned.” where contestants are clothed in traditional Thai dress.