Connect with us

Thai Life

Looking Back: Understanding the origins of Thailand’s water-filled New Year

Legacy Phuket Gazette




PHUKET: Songkran is Thailand’s traditional New Year festival. The word ‘Songkran’ is derived from Sanskrit, meaning to pass or move into, which is appropriate because according to Brahman astrology, the sun changes position from the Aries constellation to the Taurus constellation during this period, between the 10th to the 18th of April.

The Songkran festival has its roots dating back to ancient India, where people celebrated the coming of spring. Today, Songkran is celebrated throughout Southeast Asia, particularly in Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, where it is famously known as the water festival.

Thais celebrate Songkran in a variety of ways. They visit Buddhist temples to make merit, visit family, wash the hands of elders as a sign of respect and throw water indiscriminately at each other for fun. Songkran parades are also held where the star of the procession is the ‘Nang Songkran’ (Nang means lady), usually a young, beautiful Thai woman dressed in traditional Thai costume.

The reason Nang Songkran is associated with the Thai New Year stems from an old Brahman legend. Thousands of years ago, there lived a very rich man who possessed every material thing he could want. But he had no son and nobody to carry on his family name. Heartbroken after trying and waiting for many years, he prayed to the sun and moon and asked to be blessed with a son. He prayed for three years but his prayers went unanswered.

One day, when the sun was high above the Aries constellation, the rich man went to pray at a Bodhi tree near the river. When he reached it, he washed his rice offerings seven times at the river, cooked the rice and prayed to the gods. With a pure and desperate heart, he asked the gods to bless him with a son. The gods felt sorry for the rich man and so they went to Indra, the king of the gods, and told him about the man’s plight.

The merciful Indra was moved and agreed to bless the rich man with a divine son. Not long after that, the rich man’s wife was pregnant. The rich man was finally happy and he named his son Dhammaban Kuman. He built a castle near the river for his son to live in.

Years passed and Dhammaban Kuman grew. Since he was a child of the gods, he was able to learn divine skills, such as bird language and the ability to see into the future.

One day, Brahma, the creator of the universe descended from heaven and paid Dhammaban Kuman a visit. He presented Dhammaban with three riddles. If Dhammaban was not able to answer the riddles correctly, Brahma declared that he would sever the boy’s head. But if Dhammaban was able to answer the riddles correctly, Brahma would cut off his own head as an offering.

Then Brahma presented his riddles. “Where is a man’s ‘Rasi’ (dignity) in the morning? Where is it in the afternoon, and where is it in the evening?”

Dhammaban Kuman thought for a moment but he could not figure it out. He asked Brahma to give him a week to think. Brahma agreed.

During that week, Dhammaban Kuman thought and thought but he could not come up with an answers to the riddles. The days passed by and the thought of losing his head scared him more and more as Brahma’s deadline loomed closer. On the sixth day, Dhammaban still could not figure out the riddles. He went back to his castle and prepared for the end. That was when he heard two eagles talking atop the Bodhi tree.

“Dhammaban is doomed on the morrow”, said one of the eagles. The other eagle was more sympathetic, and asked whether his friend knew the answer to Brahma’s riddles.

“Of course I do”, said the eagle. “In the morning, a man’s Rasi is on his face; that is why he washes his face in the morning. In the afternoon, it is on his chest, and that is why he washes his chest in the afternoon. In the evening, it is on his feet and that is why he washes his feet in the evening. But Dhammaban will never figure it out.”

Later that day Brahma appeared before Dhammaban and demanded the answers. The creator of the universe was shocked when the boy answered correctly. It was Brahma who now had to give up his head.

Brahma went back to his heavenly abode and called upon his seven daughters. He told them about the riddles and that he must now cut off his own head. There was one problem, however. If Brahma’s head were to ever touch the ground, fire would engulf and consume the earth. If his head were to ever be dropped into the sea, the seas would dry out forever. If Brahma’s head were to be suspended in the air, the air would be devoid of any rain.

Brahma then ordered his daughter, Thungsa Devi, to place his head on a golden tray. His daughters were instructed to take his head to a sacred cave on Mount Kailash and lay it there.

Ever since, it is said that on New Year’s Day, or Songkran, Brahma’s seven daughters would return to this sacred cave on Mount Kailash and bring their father’s head out for a procession across the sky. The daughters would take turns every year to hold the golden tray on which their father’s head lay. They became known as ‘Nang Songkran’.

Thus the tradition of appointing a Nang Songkran is still observed in celebrations during the Songkran festival.

— Anand Singh


Get more from The Thaiger

📱 Download our app on Android or iOS
👋 Have your say on our Thailand forum
🔔 Subscribe to our daily newsletter
📺 Subscribe / Join for daily shows
👍 Like/Follow us on Facebook
🐦 FOLLOW us on Twitter
📷 FOLLOW us on Instagram


Join the conversation and have your say on Thailand news published on The Thaiger.

Thaiger Talk is our new Thaiger Community where you can join the discussion on everything happening in Thailand right now.

Please note that articles are not posted to the forum instantly and can take up to 20 min before being visible. Click for more information and the Thaiger Talk Guidelines.

Click to comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Follow Thaiger by email:

Coronavirus (Covid-19)10 hours ago

Wednesday Covid Update: 4,886 new cases; provincial totals

Thailand10 hours ago

Thailand News Today | Substandard masks, PM to decide on Omicron, lingerie worker demands | Dec 1

Southeast Asia11 hours ago

Vietnam to welcome fully vaccinated tourists from Thailand this month

Sponsored19 hours ago

Hungry Hub Bangkok Rooftop Festival 2021

Southeast Asia11 hours ago

Myanmar junta likely to be temporarily barred from the UN, along with Taliban

Coronavirus (Covid-19)11 hours ago

Hospital warns not all PCR tests properly detect Omicron variant

Thailand11 hours ago

Thailand’s exclusion from US Summit for Democracy could impact foreign investment

Join the conversation on the Thaiger Talk forums today!
Tourism11 hours ago

TAT predicts 500,000 travellers before 2022, 133,000 arrived so far

Thailand12 hours ago

Kanchanaburi park ranger reportedly stabbed co-worker, shot himself

Crime13 hours ago

Former Deputy PM Suthep indicted over construction contracts

Transport13 hours ago

New variant casts shadow over Thailand Motor Expo, concerns outbreak could affect the industry

Thailand14 hours ago

Thai porn industry, Forget about Pattaya nightlife, Hualampong station | Thaiger Bites | Ep.72

Transport15 hours ago

Cabinet sets aside over 5 billion baht to improve Bangkok’s public transportation

Drugs16 hours ago

Men arrested at Bangkok airport for allegedly smuggling drugs valued at 95 million baht

Thailand16 hours ago

Victoria’s Secret Thailand supplier faces labour abuse by laid off workers

Coronavirus World18 hours ago

Health officials say Omicron probably in the Netherlands prior to South Africa reports

Thailand3 months ago

Morning Top Stories Thailand | Police to end protests, Human Trafficking | September 14

Thailand9 months ago

Thailand News Today | Thai Airways in rehab, All go for Songkran | March 4

Tourism9 months ago

Phuket’s nightlife. Yes, bars and clubs are still open | VIDEO

Phuket9 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid passport talks, Thai Airways heads to court | March 2

Tourism9 months ago

Phuket Thai food treats you need to try | VIDEO

Thailand9 months ago

Thailand News Today | Bars, pubs and restaurants ‘sort of’ back to normal | Feb 23

Tourism9 months ago

In search of Cat & Dog Cafés in Phuket Town | VIDEO

Thailand10 months ago

Thailand News Today | Gambling crackdown, Seafood market to reopen, Vlogger challenge | Jan 21

Thailand11 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid testing for visas, Business impact, Vaccine approval | January 19

Thailand11 months ago

Thailand News Today | Weekend Bangkok bombs, Thailand fires, Covid update | January 18

Thailand11 months ago

Thailand News Today | Stray car on runway, Indonesian quake, 300 baht tourist fee | January 15

Thailand11 months ago

Thailand News Today | Governor off respirator, sex-trafficking arrest, condo prices falling | January 14

Thailand11 months ago

Thailand News Today | Chinese vaccine, Thailand ‘drug hub’, Covid update | January 13

Thailand11 months ago

Thailand News Today | Bangkok may ease restrictions, Phuket bar curfew, Vaccine roll out | January 12

Thailand11 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid latest, Cockfights closed down, Bryde’s Whale beached | January 11