Home Commentary Songkran water festival as celebration of life

Songkran water festival as celebration of life

Water is life.

Each culture has its own way of recognizing the value of water as part of rituals and practices, either for bathing, washing, drinking or as a sacrifice.

Water covers 70% of the earth’s surface and is vital for all known forms of life. The cells in our bodies consist of 65 – 90% water. We cannot survive without it.

Water has many functions in religions: there are rituals to call forth more water and others to stop the deluge of water.  There are lakes, rivers, and springs that by religious people are regarded as having the power to heal the sick and overcome death – some of them are even regarded as divinities.

The religious metaphors of water include knowledge, life, salvation, time, healing, and new beginnings among others.

With its life-giving energy, water is commonly used to symbolize health and invigoration.

I was recently in Thailand to join Songkran which is the most famous water festival that marks the beginning of the traditional Thai New Year.

- Newsletter -

The water festival is the celebration of New Year that takes place in Southeast Asian nations such as Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia, and some parts of China and Vietnam.

It is called the ‘Water Festival’  because of people splashing or pouring water at one another as part of the cleansing ritual to welcome the Songkran New Year.

Songkran is a Thai word derived from Sanskrit “saṅkrānti” meaning ‘to move’, ‘movement’,:  ‘the passing of’ or ‘astrological passage’ associated with the movement of the sun from one position to another in the zodiac.

Traditionally, people gently sprinkled water on one another symbolizing cleansing, reverence, and good fortune.,

As the new year falls during the hottest month in Southeast Asia, many people end up dousing strangers and passers-by in boisterous celebrations. Songkran brings out everyone’s inner child.

In the Buddhist calendar, the water festival celebration covers a period of three days: 13 April is regarded as Maha Songkran, the day that the sun moves into Aries on the zodiac or the last day of the old year. The next day, 14 April is called Wan Nao, the transitional day between the old and the new years, and 15 April is called Wan Thaloeng Sok (‘to begin a new era or year’), New Year’s Day itself.

My first Songkran was in 2017 in Bangkok and Chiang Mai while this year is my second Songkran in Pattaya and Bangkok.

This year also marks  the 75th anniversary of the Philippines – Thailand diplomatic relations since June 14, 1949, with the  theme “Moving Forward to A New Era of Closer Friendship and Common Prosperity,”

Ambassador Millicent Cruz Paredes emphasized the enduring friendship between Filipinos and Thais that began as far back as pre-modern history, between the seafaring and maritime trading peoples of the two countries.

She highlighted the vibrant collaboration and interaction across various sectors, including government, business, migrants, students, and tourists. She underscored the significance of the Philippines and Thailand being members of the ASEAN family, a relationship that originated in Bangkok in 1967. Ambassador Paredes is my batchmate from the University of the Philippines School of Economics.

In Christianity, water is primarily linked to the ritual of baptism, where a follower professes one’s faith by bathing in ‘holy water’ that symbolizes rebirth, a purification of the soul, and admission into the faith.

Christ walked on water and transmuted it into wine, considered as a transcendence of the earthly condition.

The baptism of Jesus, the ritual purification of Jesus with water by John the Baptist in Jordan, is described in the New Testament through the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Water can also be destructive (as in the biblical flood which only Noah and his family escaped); water drowns and erodes, wearing away even the densest of stones.

One of the Filipino versions of Songkran is the Lechon festival which is a religious and cultural festival in Balayan, Batangas celebrated every June 24  in honor of its patron saint St. John the Baptist.

The Lechon festival is a fusion of religion and culture where the dousing of water signifies the baptism of Jesus and the parade of Lechon (roasted pig) is one of the main dishes served during celebrations or fiestas.

Roasted pigs are dressed in varied personas where clear plastic is wrapped to prevent the lechon from getting wet.

In Sigmund Freud’s “The Interpretation of Dreams”,  birth is almost always represented by some reference to water: Either one plunges into water or climbs out of it rescues someone from the water, or gets rescued from water (indicating a mother-like relationship to that person).

Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the Seafarers’ Division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan Law Offices. For comments, e-mail [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.

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