Songkran festivals may be cancelled, but this coming Monday is cause for celebration for high-ranking officials, as well as all the คุณหญิง (khun-ying) and คุณนาย (khun-nai), or wives of high-ranking officials.
According to astrological calculation, when Songkran falls on a Monday, it’s simply good times for the power and prestige of the ruling class.
The deity and the clever boy
Monday April 13 is the start of this year’s Songkran, or the Thai New Year, which normally is a three-day holiday.
Songkran comes from a sanskrit term, which means “astrological passage.” It coincides with the rising of the astrological sign, aries. It is celebrated in several countries in South and Southeast asia.
However, in 1940 Thailand officially changed the New Year to January 1, to be in line with the international calendar.
Thai Buddhism is heavily influenced by Hindu Brahmanism, and Songkran is no different. The Budhhist scripture at Pho Temple (Wat Pho) tells the story of the Hindu deity, Kapila Brahma, his seven daughters and a clever boy named Thammabal, which means “one who protects righteousness.”
Thammabal was reputed for his intellect, so Kapila Brahma decided to put the boy to the test: Take seven days to find the answer to this question, he told the boy.
“When is the glory of men located in the morning, during the day and in the evening?
The wager? The loser must cut off his own head.
For six days, the boy couldn’t come up with an answer. But on the seventh day, as he laid underneath a tree, worrying about his fate, he overheard two eagles talking. The answer was in their conversation.
Thus, the boy met up with Kapila Brahma and told him: In the morning, the glory of men is on his face, so people wash their faces every morning. In the afternoon, it’s on their chest, so people spray perfume every noon. In the evening, it’s on their feet, so people wash their feet every evening.
With the correct answer given, Kapila Brahma knew he must cut off his own head.
The seven Nang Songkran
Before the self-decapitation, the Kapila Brahma summoned his seven daughters.
As a deity, if his severed head fell to earth, fire would engulf the world. If his severed head is in the air, rain would flood the earth. If his severed head is thrown into the ocean, seawater would dry up.
As such, his eldest daughter placed his head in a cave on Mount Kailash.
To honor their father, every year when the sun enters aries, one daughter would lead a procession with his severed head, riding on an animal.
The daughters are then known as Nang Songkran, or Miss Songkran, representing the astrological passage of the day of their father’s death.
If the sun enters aries on Tuesday, the daughter Raagsa Taewee rides the pig in the procession.
Wednesday, Monta Taewee rides the donkey.
Thursday, Kirinee Taewee rides the elephant.
Friday, Kimita Taewee rides the buffalo.
Saturday, Mahotora Taewee rides the peacock.
Sunday, Tungsa Taewee rides the garuda.
This year on Monday, Koraka Taewee rides the tiger.
Furthermore, the riding position of each daughter depends on the calculation of the time when the sun enters aries.
Between 6am and 11:59am, Nang Songkran stands on the animal.
Noon to 5:59pm, she sits.
6pm to 11:59pm is the calculation for this year, so she lays down with her eyes open.
Midnight to 5:59am, she lays down with her eyes closed.
It ain’t a wet t-shirt contest
In addition to Songkran, in 1982 the government also designated April 13 as the Elderly Day. In 1989, April 14 became Family Day.
Traditionally, Thais would celebrate Songkran by giving thanks and honoring our parents, just as the seven Nang Songkran, but obviously without a decapitated head.
Rather, we would kneel in front of our elders, wash their feet and pour water into their hands, as they give us blessings. That’s about it.
Skimpy outfits, wet t-shirts and water guns the size of assault rifles? There’s nothing Buddhist or Hindu about it.