You can still have a traditional festival despite it being splash-free!
It’s that time of the year again to gloat about yet another Thai festival inspired by Indians. Everyone knows Indians invented everything. Songkran, derived from the Sanskrit word “Sankranti” — which means astrological passage — is the traditional New Year celebration in Thailand between April 13 and 15. This is the time when the sun leaves Aries and enters Taurus, but of course you already knew that along with many other random facts, right Uncle?
Songkran B.C. (Before COVID) may have looked a little different with social togetherness in the form of water- splashing crowds, travelling without tests, and large family gatherings; but alas the spirit of the New Year must go on, even if it does involve some precautionary measures.
One of the highlights of Songkran is “Rod Nam Dam Hua” which involves respectfully pouring scented water onto your elders’ palms and asking for their blessing. This year the Ministry of Public Health has asked for this ritual not to be performed as it could spread the virus, especially among the older population. However there’s no reason why it can’t be adapted to COVID times so that we spray alcohol sanitiser or rub hand gel on our relatives as a sign of respect and good health.
Or if that still sounds too risky another important aspect of Songkran is cleaning. On the first day of the New Year, April 13, people will clean their homes and public places to eradicate any bad luck from the previous year for a fresh start. And if there’s one thing we Indians can get on board with, it’s cleaning! We already make sure our houses are spotless before we have guests coming over, and we like to leave the plastic cover on items as long as we can. Your house helpers will definitely want to take days off during Songkran so make sure to schedule the dusting before they disappear. Now is also a good time to sort through the pile of takeout containers and empty jam jars/ biscuit tins you have hoarded in your kitchen cabinet.
If staying in town during the long holiday doesn’t sound appealing, travelling is also a fun option. But wait! There are different protocols if you are going away with family or friends. If it’s a family beach trip, make sure you pack your most conservative one-piece swimsuit and waterproof bandaids to cover up any tattoos your parents don’t know about. Whatever you do, do not get your mum’s or any Aunt’s hair wet if you happen to beswimming together or playing Songkran because she got her hair blow-dried at the salon on the morning of the trip and will need it to last until the vacation is over.
If you’re heading out for a friend’s-only getaway, feel free to dig into the underbelly of your closet where you hide your bikinis and provocative clothes (presumably under your collection of appropriate long-sleeved kurtis). Anything goes when you’re with your crew, just make sure you’re not staying at a family-friendly chain hotel where you’re likely to bump into conservative members of the community in your skimpy gear. Or at least ensure you have your mask on so they won’t be able to clearly figure out who you are.
The rambunctious way of celebrating Songkran B.C. with buckets of H2O and water guns may be tamed down from here on out as it was already arguably gross on a hygiene level even without a pandemic. Deodorant and showers exist for a reason. Luckily the government has also decided to ban powder this year to prevent people from smearing the white paste onto revellers as a relief from the April heat. We Indians can still safely enjoy this tradition in our homes where we already rub haldi and yoghurt onto our faces and bodies to rejuvenate and cool our skin.
However you choose to partake in the Thai New Year celebration this year, please do stay safe and vigilant, and don’t wear a white t-shirt. You don’t want to be that person that people will gossip about for Songkrans to come.
An unreformed party girl and mother of two, writer, editor and observer Sumati Huber tries to make sense of our unique Thai-Indian society and the aunties that she will one day become.