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April 15, 2011 > Songkran: Welcome the New Year with a splash

Songkran: Welcome the New Year with a splash

This weekend's forecast is for sunny skies, pleasant temperatures and a lot of water! Songkran, the traditional Thai New Year (April 13-15) is also known as the "Water Festival" for obvious reasons as celebrants use water to wash away bad luck. This weekend, Fremont's Wat Buddhanusorn (Buddhist temple) will facilitate the entrance of a new year with prayers food, music, dancing and, of course, water. Songkran is a Thai word which means "move" or "change place." On Songkran Day the sun moves into the Aries zodiac.

What has evolved in parts of Thailand into a massive water free-for-all began long ago as small amounts of water were poured on hands or over a shoulder as a mark of respect. For many, use of water has escalated and, since April is a hot month in Thailand, sprays of cool water are welcome. Songkran is celebrated by families as they present gifts to each other and wash the hands of elders with scented water as a sign of respect. Resolutions of future good behavior are also common.

Traditional activities include visiting temples to pray and give food to the monks. Images of Buddha at monasteries and household shrines are cleansed using scented water. Many thoroughly clean their homes. Songkran is a time of introspection; individuals reflect upon acts of kindness and how generosity and compassion brings peace, happiness and well-being into their lives.

The first day of Songkran (traditionally April 13) is subdued with a focus on Buddhism and its reverence for life. Known as Maha Songkran, this day bids farewell to the outgoing year, acknowledging responsibilities, making offerings to Buddhist monks and "merit-making" (an act of giving that demonstrates generosity toward others).

On Wan Nao (April 14), the day between the old and new years, merit-making continues in the morning with more offerings of food to the monks and family members. In the evening, sand is brought to temples to build pagodas called "phra chedis sai" and what began as ceremonial sprinkling of water has evolved to huge water fights.

New Year's Day falls on April 15 and includes merit-making rites and the presentation of food and other offerings to Buddhist monks; donations are made; fish and birds are released; and lustral water is poured over respected elders as a gesture of respect and reverence. A related practice is tying strings around the wrists of others expressing good wishes for the New Year and using white powder or a pasty substance to ward off evil.

At Fremont's Wat Buddhanusorn ("temple for the dedication of the Buddha"), Saturday's observance of Songkran will center on reflection and introspection of the transition to a new year. Sunday will feature Thai classical dance, music, raffles and prize drawings. Sunday afternoon, streams of water from squirt guns and pails of water make an appearance so visitors who want to join the fun should be prepared to get wet. There is no admission fee for Songkran festivities but visitors can purchase food and drink.

Songkran (Thai Traditional New Year)

Saturday, Apr 16 (Buddhist reflection & introspection)
10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Sunday, Apr 17 (dancing, games, music)
10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Wat Buddhanusorn
36054 Niles Blvd., Fremont
(510) 790-2294

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