11 July 2024

Thailand’s most-celebrated and globally-renowned festival has had its fair share of politicization, with people being urged a few years ago to throw water using bowls of a specific color a great example. But the national bonding this traditional New Year period created has managed to defy all odds.

Songkran is a local festival that represents Thai harmony and a solid linkage between rural people and those in the cities. Why are Bangkok streets empty during Songkran? Partly, it’s because many Bangkokians take their vacations upcountry, where celebrations give them more fun. But more significantly, it’s because Bangkok-based workers, business executives, or high-flying professionals want to pay visits to their family members or relatives. Pick out anyone among the movie stars, business hotshots, high-ranking bureaucrats, politicians or even media moguls and chances are that he or she has a strong rural root.

It’s Thais’ great responsibility to keep it that way. The country’s political strife has made just about anything _ events, occasions, lifestyles, individual behaviors, court verdicts and etc _ a divisive and caste issue. Truth is that Thailand is a true land of opportunities as well as an amazing social mixture, and the Songkran exodus proves that.

The period should not be just about having fun and making foreign tourists smile. Songkran must also be about Thais remembering what they have _ a nicely-blended society where farmers’ children make it big in Bangkok or at least try their lucks. It’s a period to remember the good side of “Thai-ness”, a word which has been politicized too much lately.

Songkran brings a splash of memories

In a politically cutthroat environment, there are not many things Thais can hold onto nowadays as a common symbol of unity. Songkran is undisputedly among them.

Authorities’ close monitoring of the Khaosan Raod, the “fun” hotbed of Songkran as far as foreign tourists are concerned, has made headlines for good reasons. “When young people can’t splash water, many would choose to stay home,” said a rural YouTuber. But he quickly added: “Old folks, however, are welcoming this, as it means that a period they have been waiting for the whole year will provide more of what they want _ time with the children who have gone elsewhere to either study or work.”

The man’s comment addresses both chief characteristics of Songkran _ fun and traditional bonding. Both parts make the period so special, although one of them may have made front pages more than the other.

The festival is also usually associated with road carnage. But if we take away the accidents, Songkran does give Thais glimpses of a utopia, where politics is less intense and the good side of human beings often comes out. People go to temples, build sandcastles, make merits, cook great food and have pleasant reunions with friends and families. Thais smile. Thais forgive. Thais help one another.

Water throwing has been minimized over the past few years, thanks to COVID-19. This has made a few people lament that the spirit of Songkran is fading away. But while water guns, bowls, and other water containers are important when Songkran is concerned, they are by no means the only most important thing. Songkran reinforces the bonding, which makes the festival “warm”, no matter how “cold” one may have felt, either because of soaked clothing or because of being “out there” practically alone.

By Tulsathit Taptim