Thailand’s traditional New Year celebrations are here and to get people in the mood and to give visitors a taste of the varied nature of the Songkran holiday, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) hosted a Songkran Splendours Parade through the historical heart of Bangkok on 10 April, 2016.
In the kaleidoscope of cultures that make up Southeast Asia, there are thousands of colourful festivals. But few of these have caught on internationally in the way that Thailand’s Songkran celebrations have. People now come from all over the world to join this nationwide party that sees Thais heading to their home towns to be with loved ones and take part in traditional ceremonies. These visitors get to join the fun of splashing water, visiting temples and making a real connection with the Thai people.
But what many modern visitors don’t realise about Songkran is that while it is a nationwide celebration, how it is celebrated can vary from province to province and village to village. That is why this year’s Songkran Splendours was all about the rich variety of the festival. A parade was held in Bangkok’ s historic Rattanakosin Island district to give visitors and locals alike a chance to enjoy the very different, but very Thai, elements of Songkran with performers joining from every corner of the kingdom.
The Splendours started with a rousing celebration of Thai culture. Costumed girls performed traditional Thai dances to the heavy beat of drums. The crowds were even treated to the sight of Thai shadow puppets with newer heroes; such as, superman and Batman joining the cast of the more traditional characters.
After the speeches by high-ranking Thai government officials came the floats. The beginning of the parade showed how important Songkran is to Thailand’s history. A colourful float of beasts and celestial beings from the murals of Wat Pho set the scene for what was called ‘The Procession of the Three Kingdoms.’ The glorious recreations of Thai icons; such as, the mighty Garuda, or a colourful peacock seemed very much at home as they set off from the spires of Maha Jesadaborin Pavilion to the pagoda of Wat Pho. Along the way, water was sprinkled on the crowd, albeit not liberally, as water conservation is a large element of this year’s Songkran revelry.
The various regions of the nation were then celebrated in memorable style. From Loei in the Northeastern region, there were representations of traditional Songkran Dok Mai trees, which usually decorate the temples. Flowers were attached to the trees by flexible gymnasts rocketed into the air by their friends. The Si Maharaja Rice Stacks from Chon Buri showed the importance of Songkran as a celebration of the nation’s fertility while the fruits of the sea were celebrated with the float from Nakhon Si Thammarat, which was joined by grinning fishermen, one of whom would cast his nets into the crowd. All the revellers wore the traditional costumes of their regions, which varied wildly in colours and patterns, but one element remained the same – the wide Thai smile that has always enchanted visitors.
From start to finish, the Songkran Splendours was a fun-filled party of colour and sound. Most people already know about the water fun, and religious aspects of Thailand’s New Year revelry, but they forget how important music is to the celebrations. Throughout the parade, spectators were treated to danceable beats from huge kettle drums, traditional Thai wind and percussion instruments, trumpets, trombones and singing all along the route. This allowed everyone to hear, as well as see the differences between the various Songkran celebrations.
The Splendours ended on a note of unity, with an elegant display of Lao dancing from a group of performers who joined to represent Thailand’s neighbour, which celebrates its own version of Songkran every year. Accompanying the dancing were representations of the pagodas in both Lao PDR. and Thailand.
Locals and tourists, braved the heat of the Thai summer to enjoy the spectacle, many of them following the procession all the way to Wat Pho where they were rewarded with musical shows, stalls selling traditional food and an elaborate Khon show, in which the performers wore sumptuous costumes.
For visitors in Bangkok, the Songkran Splendours offered a way of exploring the many ways that Songkran is celebrated, while locals had their appetites whetted for the New Year fun to come on 13-15 April. The party is off to a good start.
TAT would like to wish all readers a Happy Thai New Year and a fun and memorable Songkran holiday.
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