At Songkran or the Thai New Year, it seems that the whole kingdom is on the move, as people head home to be with loved ones. While this is a holiday that unites the Thai people nationwide in a spirit of fun, it’s celebrated in uniquely different way across the nation. Each district has its traditions; from releasing birds and fish, to firecrackers, parades and the building of giant and elaborate sand sculptures. But at some point, everyone pays a visit to the temple to pay respect to the local Buddha images.
In Nakhon Si Thammarat, a province in Thailand’s Southern Region, the religious element of the celebrations take on a distinctly Hindu feel, with Brahmin ceremonies and rituals. So for visitors seeking a new take on Songkran, the historic city is worth visiting.
The city itself
Present day Nakhon Si Thammarat has a laid-back vibe, making it a pleasant stop-off when heading south. As early as the 7th Century, it was one of the most important cities in the region and a vital sea port. In the 17th Century, European traders set up factories to trade, but gradual silting meant the sea became more distant and the town went into decline. But visitors will find historic treasures, including parts of the ancient city wall and the temple of Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan.
Songkran in Nakhon Si Thammarat
Like revellers across Thailand, the locals of Nakhon Si Thammarat enjoy splashing water and cooling off on Songkran Day (13 April). But unlike in other destinations, this water play is restricted to New Year’s Day itself. This makes Nakhon Si Thammarat a good destination for sightseers who want to avoid getting wet. There are more serene Songkran pastimes to enjoy – like the building of miniature sand pagodas outside Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan.
Bathing the Phra Phuttha Sihing
Do visit Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan to pay respects to the city’s most important Buddha image – the Phra Phuttha Sihing. Though small, this statue is hugely important in Thailand. It is believed to have come from Sri Lanka about 1,800 years ago and is one of three similar images, the others in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. People come from all over Thailand to bathe the statue with water and make merit for the Thai New Year. It’s believed that wherever the statue is housed, Buddhism will prosper.
The Nang Dan parade
Nakhon Si Thammarat’s Nang Dan parade is what makes Songkran in the town so unique. The event reflects the huge influence of Hinduism in this region which once enjoyed huge trade links with the India. Brahmins believe that the god Shiva returns to earth once a year to bless the land and people. The procession is aimed at engaging three important deities from the Hindu pantheon to greet the Lord Shiva during his stay.
The ‘Nang Dan’ themselves are simple carved planks, each with an image of the deity being called upon for blessings. The first ‘Dan’ represents the god of the sun: Suriya, the source of energy and life for all creatures; and the moon Goddess: Rachaneekorn who grants a time of rest during the night. The second ‘Dan’ portrays Vasudhara or Phra Mae Thorani, a goddess who represents virtue and who helps look after the creations of Shiva. The final ‘Dan’ has an image of Shiva’s wife Phra Mae Ganga, the Goddess of abundance.
The ‘Nang Dan’ are blessed before being paraded through the town by locals dressed in traditional costumes. The procession ends in the city’s central park where there is a dramatic sound and light show to celebrate the arrival of Shiva and to give visitors a taste of the town’s history.
The swing ceremony
Known in Thailand as Lo Ching Cha, this is the highlight of the event to welcome Shiva to earth and to bless the town. It is the southern version of a ceremony which used to take place on the giant swing in front of Bangkok’s Wat Suthat Thepphaararam, until it was stopped for safety reasons in 1935.
The Nakhon Si Thammarat swing is shorter than the iconic Giant Swing of Bangkok, but it still seems fearfully high, especially when you see what the ceremony entails. The local Brahmin volunteers clamber in pairs onto the swing platform, which is little more than a thin plank. Here, the young men kneel, with near impossible serenity as the swing is pulled from below on ropes – forward and backward, higher and higher. The front Brahmin is required to stand, reaching out to grab a bag of coins, attached to a nearby tree. Every near miss draws a gasp from the crowd. And, when the coins are eventually won, relieved applause breaks out. It’s an amazing spectacle and one of most memorable sights of a southern Songkran.
The unique Sonkran celebrations of Nakhon Si Thammarat
The Songkran celebrations in Nakhon Si Thammarat are well-worth seeing if you’re interested in the rich cultural tapestry that makes up modern-day Thainess. But the trip is also one to do if you’ve sampled Songkran in its usual form and are looking to escape the watery revels and to experience something unique to this ancient city.