A special New Year occasion also in Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Yunnan

The Nation,
Theeranuch Pusaksrikit traces the history of Songkran in neighbouring countries.

BURMA

The water festival is scheduled around the same time as in Thailand - in the second week of April. The water festival started here over 900 years ago.

On the first day, according to long-held belief, the Hindu god Indra descends from heaven. People welcome this god by putting out pots filled with water and flowers in front of their homes.

During the three days that Indra is on the earth, he observes people's conduct closely and makes a record of it. This means that people try to be on their best behaviour during this period.

Older people go to temples. Some set up small pavilions to offer free drinks and snacks. Others let fish and birds go free to make merit.

Among friends, they sprinkle scented water, tease and play practical jokes on one another.

On the third day, Indra returns to heaven. That evening, people take the flowers out of the pots, throw the water away and put the flowers around their house. This ritual is performed to bring good fortune in the coming year.

CAMBODIA AND LAOS

Like Thais, Cambodians and Laotians view Songkran as a special Buddhist occasion and adopt the lunar calendar to define New Year's Day.

The first day of the New Year, people take food as offerings to monks, clean their houses and go to temples to listen to sermons.

The second day, people take sand to build a hillock and then invite monks to pray for the dead.

The third day, people wash Buddha statues with scented water. Parents and grandparents are bathed by their descendants to beg forgiveness for their sins over the past year.

After that, people enjoy the final day by splashing water.

CHINA

New Year's Day for the Dai people in Yunnan, southern China, is celebrated in the sixth month of the year, according to their traditional calendar. Thus, it's in June, and lasts for three days.

On the first day dragon-boat races are organised for men's and women's teams. While the boat races are going on, spectators shoot off skyrockets and step to a traditional dance.

They also gather together to perform the rite of bathing Buddha statues and listen attentively to scriptures recited by Buddhist monks.

On the second day, people don new clothes and visit a fair where they can buy local products and participate in various games.

Cockfights attract most of the men. For young people, bag throwing is the activity they like the best. In this game, they can get to know each other, and hit their partner with small coloured cotton bags.

Another favourite event of the Dais is sand sculpturing, and they like to carve out miniature houses or pagodas.

On the third day, the main program is sprinkling water. It starts when the sun reaches directly overhead. People begin by dipping flowers in water and then they sprinkle the water on each other to express their blessings. The festival ends at night with singing, dancing and watching a huge bonfire.

As in other regions, the folklore of the Dai tells that the area was occupied by the Devil, who brought tremendous agony local people. To rescue people from their suffering, seven Dai girls volunteered to kill the Devil.

The Devil's head was immediately cut off and thrown to the ground, where it spontaneously burst into flames.

These girls fetched water to put out the fire and it took them seven days to extinguish it.

In memory of these seven girls, the Dai sprinkle water every New Year's Day. This also demonstrates their desire to ward off disasters.

All these legends relate the best of intentions for good, against evil, and a longing for peace and happiness.