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History and traditions of Songkran festival

Discuss about the Festivals and Events for History of Songkran Festival.
 

Songkran event is the most famous festival of Thailand. The festival is also recognised as Thai New Year and is generally organised in the month of April. It is one of the grandest events of Thailand which is celebrated to welcome New Year with fun filled entertainments. The Songkran day is generally celebrated on 13th April which is the date of New Year in Thailand and usually the celebration of Songkran lasts for 3 to 10 days. This festival is celebrated across the country but the grandest celebrations are organised in the Thai city named Chiang Mai. During this festival the families and friends pay their elders a deep gratitude and also they offer prayers at the temples. On this festival the people of Thailand use water that is mixed with Thai aroma, to pour on the images of Buddha to cleanse them. This festival basically represents a bathing ritual in which water is poured on Senior Buddhist monks by the Thai people. This ritual is carried by them with the belief that it brings a streak of luck for them. Also, grand processions of images of Buddha are paraded on the streets of Thailand. Various kinds of fun filled entertainment activities are organised during this festival such as beauty contests and carnivals. People slash water everywhere with the belief that it will bring rainfall in abundance in the forthcoming year and therefore it is also known as water festival of Thailand (Asia News Monitor, 2010). 

The Songkran festival has derived its name from a Sanskrit word Songkran which has a literally means to move into. This meaning specifically implies the moving of the sun, moon and various other planets into the zodiacal orbits (Renard, 1999). The festival falls in Aries and it signifies the new era of New Year in Thailand. The word Songkran mainly emphasises on transformation. The basic point about the word transformation is significant because, symbolically, water festival of Thailand wipes away people’s troubles and stress that belonged to the previous year and offers them an opportunity to take up things from a fresh start by changing their paths in the upcoming year. The exact history of how and when people began to celebrate Songkran festival is not actually known but it has been derived from the Hinduism traditions and is generally believed to be thousand years old (Chadchaidee, 2014). The core history of the traditions of the festival emerged from the devotions and blessings of the monks of Buddhism religion. Over the last twenty years Songkran festival has turned to a water festival where people splash water everywhere to bring divinity in their lives (Agarwal, 2013). 

The significance of water in Songkran festival

As per Clair & Hocking (2004), the grand songkran festival is renowned for its prosperous traditions. It is one of the most important and famous cultural event. According to TAT (2014), Thailand is selected as the most common tourist destination particularly during its festive season when Songkran is celebrated at the grand scale. According to Ming Tsai (2016), the word Songkran implies to the movement where the Sun enters into the first zodiac sign i.e. Aries. The festival is also recognised as the Thailand’s water festival among the foreigners and is enjoyed a colourful cultural event by the various generations of the Thailand. The practice of splashing water everywhere on the streets of Thailand is undertaken with the belief that it will bring plenty of rain in the forthcoming year for the season of rice plantations. The festival is celebrated in the long holiday period of Thailand which is granted to the Thai people to allow them to enjoy the New Year of Thailand. Suksawat  & Eastman (n.d.) suggests that the people of Thailand sprinkles scented water to the images and idols of Buddha to express their devotion.  Further as per Sakulsinlapakorn (2016). People clean their homes during this festive season with the belief that it will wipe away the bad luck from their lives and will bring good luck with the New Year. In the morning of the Songkran day the monks would walk around the streets holding alm’s bowls in their hands so that people can keep food in those bowls and such food would directly go to the temples. Songkran festival is considered as the happiest and joy filled festival which is full of peace, fun, generosity and warmth.

Songkran festival is a national cultural activity of Thailand and is celebrated in the welcome of Thai New year with the belief that such celebration will wash away all the bad luck of previous year and will bring good luck in the forthcoming year (Kislenko, 2004). It is a globally recognised event and hence it attracts tourism in huge amounts to the country leading to its economic development (Siviroj, Peltzer, Pengpid & Morarit, 2012).

The principle of environmental sustainability suggests that only such events that contribute positively to the environment must be organised. The environmental principle of sustainability is hurt by the typical bathing and water splashing rituals of Songkran festival as water is the precious resource of environment and it is severely wasted merely for the sake of showing devotions towards god. Further, the principle of social-cultural sustainability suggests that those events and festivals must be organised which enhances the social and cultural image of the country and does not harm the social beliefs of community. The social and cultural principle is duly respected by Songkran festival as it is organised to provide the Thailand culture a global recognition and respect. It generates the sense of belongingness among the Thai people for the other members as they celebrate the festival all together. The principle of economic sustainability says that the country must organise such events that promotes its economic development for the current generation as well as upcoming generations. The songkran event attracts the tourism in heavy quantum to Thailand and therefore it contributes positively to the economic development of the country by enhancing the scope of employment and business in the country (Harrington, 2004).

The impacts of Songkran festival on the environment

As songkran festival is such a grand celebration across the Thailand country, it attracts huge amount of tourism to the country. The water festival has a major impact on the environment of the country in different ways. The major impacts on the surrounding environment are both positive and negative. As a positive impact, splashing of water everywhere in the country makes the country clean and green. However, the celebration of Songkran festival causes severe environmental pollution problems like air pollution, water pollution, the depletion of various natural resources of the environment such as flora and fauna, land etc. Even the man- made environment is also deeply affected by these events as it results in destruction of various public properties and infrastructure.

Since songkran festival is a community based festival it has major social impact on the country. There are various social and cultural impacts of Songkran festival on the country. It has positive impact in the way that it promotes the culture of the country and makes it recognised by the world. This festival brings huge attraction of the tourists towards the art culture, food culture, traditions and customs of the country (Staiff & Ongkhluap, 2012). However, it also imposes the negative impact on the social environment of the country as the heavy crowd of attendees of songkran event causes distraction in the normal lives of the Thai people. It causes increase criminal rates, traffic congestions and increase in the prices of basic goods and services of the country (Tanaboriboon & Satiennam, 2005). The intense crowd also leads to increase in the cases of injured people due to road incidents like heavy traffic.

The celebration of Songkran festival involves organising various entertainment activities such as parades, carnivals, processions etc. The festival is celebrated in the most colourful and attractive ways that involves beautiful and expensive decorations across the cities. This causes occurrence of outflow of the country’s economic resources owing to the heavy expenditures on the celebration of the grand event. Also, the road vehicle crashes cause heavy economic loss to the country (Luathep & Tanaboriboon, 2005). However, the positive impact of organisation of this cultural event could also be realised. The event attracts public in large from all over the world and therefore it brings business in significant quantum to the economy of Thailand. It generates business in the form of accommodation, transportation etc. When foreigners visit the country they bring foreign exchange to the country which makes the overall economy of the country more strengthen in the competitive world and promote its economic sustainability (Cochrane, 2007) . Tourism is the greatest source of economic development of any country as it facilitates generation of revenue in huge quantity (WTCC, 2014).

Social and cultural impacts of Songkran festival

The primary stakeholders of Songkran event cover are those parties without whom Songkran festival would not even come into existence.

  • Sponsors: There were various sponsors of the Songkran event such as Singha Corporation, Stiebel Elron, Coca Cola, Izuzu and Midnight. They were very satisfied the event as it allowed them to promote their name in front of local visitors as well as foreigners.
  • Attendees: The local people of the country and the foreigners who visited the country to attend the grand Songkran event were the main stakeholders of this event as they allowed the event to be globally recognised. Attendees had both the experiences. Some attendees really enjoyed the event’s fun and changed their attitude towards the concept of Songkran event and for others it didn’t turn up to be so entertaining and they don’t want to attend such events again.
  • Participants: They were involved in various kinds of performances throughout the fun filled event. The members of dancing and drama troops, band and music performers, chefs etc. and were involved in showing their specialised skills during the parade sessions. They were happy to attend the event and wish to participate in events like this again.
  • Suppliers: Suppliers were the parties who supplied various stuffs to the event such as water, food, beverages, decoration materials etc. The suppliers felt quite happy to supply bulk quantities of festive things, as the songkran event had ultimately generated high sales for them.
  • Spectators: They were the parties that overlooked the overall management of the Songkran event. The grand success of the event was the result of their classic supervision of spectators. They were totally satisfied with the successful organisation of the event (Yasothornsrikul & Bowen, 2015).

Secondary stakeholders of the Songkran event are the parties that have facilitated the grand celebration through there explicit services. They are:

  • Host Community Members
  • Government
  • The Emergency Service Providers
  • Other business organisations such as tourist guide agencies, restaurants and hotel operators, transportation facility providers, journalists etc. (Jimmy, 2015). 

The Thailand government must organise various awareness programmes to educate people about the importance of water and other natural resources that are depleted because of grand celebration of Songkran.  Since ancient times it is believed that splashing of water everywhere during the Songkran event is auspicious and brings good luck. The campaign about the awareness program will help the country in saving the most valuable natural resource i.e. water for the current generations and the generations of future periods. Further, the Thai people must be educated about the money’s worth as it is wasted in huge quantum to organise such grand events in the name of god (Karlsson, 2013). 

Conclusion: 

From the above research about significance of cultural events like Songkran water festival on the overall development of the country it can be said that events like Songkran influence the country’s development in both positive as well as negative ways. On one hand, organisation of such giant events promotes the economic and socio cultural sustainability of the country but on the other hand it adversely affects the environmental sustainability of the country. Songkran festival therefore can be considered as the vehicle to bring overall sustainability of Thailand.

References:

Agarwal, R. (2013). Water Festivals of Thailand: The Indian Connection. Silpakorn University Journal of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, 7-18.

Asia News Monitor. (2010). Thailand: Songkran festival: One of the most significant elements of Thailand’s cultural heritage. ProQuest Research Library. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1242141233?accountid=14526

Asia News Monitor. (2010). Thailand: Songkran festival: One of the most significant elements of Thailand’s cultural heritage. ProQuest Research Library. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1242141233?accountid=14526

Chadchaidee, T. (2014). Essays on Thailand. Booksmango.

Clair, V. W. S., Bunrayong, W., Vittayakorn, S., Rattakorn, P., & Hocking, C. (2004). Offerings: Food traditions of older Thai women at Songkran. Journal of Occupational Science, 11(3), 115-124.

Cochrane, J. (Ed.). (2007). Asian tourism: Growth and change. Routledge.

Harrington, J. T. (2004). 'Being here': heritage, belonging and place making: a study of community and identity formation at Avebury (England), Magnetic Island (Australia) and Ayutthaya (Thailand) (Doctoral dissertation, James Cook University).

Jimmy, M. (2015). Songkran 2015 in Bangkok. Asia Web Direct. Retrieved from https://www.bangkok.com/information-festivals/songkran.htm#

Karlsson, K. (2013). The Songkran festival in Chiang Tung: A symbolic performance of domination and subordination between Lowland Tai and Hill Tai. Tai Culture, 23, 50-62.

Kislenko, A. (2004). Culture and customs of Thailand. Greenwood Publishing Group.

Luathep, P., & Tanaboriboon, Y. (2005). Determination of economic losses due to road crashes in Thailand. Journal of the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies, 6, 3413-3425.

National Culture Commission. (2007). How to celebrate Songkran. Thailand Life. Retrieved from https://www.thailandlife.com/songkran-festival/how-to-celebrate-songkran.html

Polnyotee, M., & Thadaniti, S. (2015). Community-based tourism: A strategy for sustainable tourism development of Patong Beach, Phuket Island, Thailand. Asian Social Science, 11(27), 90.

Renard, R. D. (1999). The image of Chiang Mai: the making of a beautiful city. Journal of the Siam Society, 87(1), 87-98.

Siviroj, P., Peltzer, K., Pengpid, S., & Morarit, S. (2012). Helmet use and associated factors among Thai motorcyclists during Songkran festival. International journal of environmental research and public health, 9(9), 3286-3297.

Siviroj, P., Peltzer, K., Pengpid, S., & Morarit, S. (2012). Non-seatbelt use and associated factors among Thai drivers during Songkran festival. BMC public health, 12(1), 608.

Staiff, R., & Ongkhluap, S. (2012). Tourism and the perceptions of local communities: case study of the World Heritage site of the Historic City of Ayutthaya, Thailand. Community development through World Heritage, 48.

Suksawat, S. (n.d.). Happy New Year Songkran Festival. Thaiways Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.thaiwaysmagazine.com/thai_article/2101_songkran_festival/songkran_festival.html

Tanaboriboon, Y., & Satiennam, T. (2005). Traffic accidents in Thailand. IATSS research, 29(1), 88-100.

Tourism Authority of Thailand [TAT]. (2014). Thailand remains a popular destination among travellers from Taiwan. Retrieved from https://www.tatnews.org/thailand-remains-a-popular-destination-among-travellers-from-taiwan

Tsai &  Sakulsinlapakorn. (2016). Exploring Tourists’ Push and Pull Travel Motivations to Participate in Songkran Festival in Thailand as a Tourist Destination: A Case of Taiwanese Visitors. Journal of Tourism and Hospitality Management, Vol. 4, No. 5, 183-197 doi: 10.17265/2328-2169/2016.10.001

World Travel & Tourism Council. (2014). Economic impact 2014 Thailand. WTTC. Retrieved from https://www.wttc.org/-/media/files/reports/economic%20impact%20research/country%20reports/thailand2014.pdf

Yasothornsrikul, P., & Bowen, D. (2015). Tourism demonstration and value change. International Journal of Tourism Research, 17(1), 96-104.

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