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2022-01-28 11:11

NOTE: This article was handed out to visitors for the Songkarn celebration in Bangkok, Thailand.

Songkarn means "movement" or "changing" since according to Thai astrology, the sun will move into a new sign of the Zodiac on this day. Songkarn is also known as the "Water Festival" and/or "Thai New Year".  Water is believed to flow and wash away all the bad omens during this time. Thus it is a time for cleaning houses, villages, temples and spirit houses.

In the Thai tradition, the New Year begins early in the morning when the faithful Thai Buddhist give alms to the Buddhist monks.  After that, they release caged animals, especially birds and fish.  Elders and parents will be visited and respected by their children and grand childern. The young pour scented water over their elder's hands, they in return, wish good health, happiness, and prosperity. The tradition of paying respect is called "Rod Nam Dam Hua". Songkarn Day is also called "Family Day.

In the afternoon, Thai Buddhist sprinkle scented water on Buddha images. After that, they sprinkle perfumed water on, or throw clean Cold water on each other. Songkarn is observed with excitement in the North, especially in the northern province of Chiang Mai.

A lot of people from around the country will head up north to participate in the festivals organized there. A Miss Songkarn Festival will be held and a long and beautiful parade will be organized.

In Bangkok, a Buddha image is brought out from the National Museum for people to sprinkle lustral wat at Sanam Luang, opposite the Grand Palace. Anyone who goes out on the street is likely to get a thorough soaking. People believe that water will wash away bad luck, and splashing water over friends or anyone will give them a New Year blessing.

Editors Notes: Songkarn is celebrated throughout Thailand. Also, as part of the celebration at Wat Tampa you will also see people with a wet talcum powder on their faces. You will hear people saying "Sawatdi Be Mai" - Hello New Year.

The following is from "An Overview of Cultural History in Thailand" by Chamnong Tongpraset


Before Buddhism spread to the land now called "Thailand", the people in this area adhered to animism and later Brahmanism, particularly Saivaism which in those days spread all over what is now Cambodia,

According to the history, in {tooltip}273 B.E. / 270 B.C.{end-link}B.E (or B.C.E refers to Before the Common Era; B.C. stands for Before Christ; for reference Buddha was born about 583 B.C.E.{end-tooltip}, there came to the throne of India one of the greatest men in history, King Asoka, the first Emperor who ruled India for more than 40 years.In the early years of his reign, he invaded and conquered Kalinga, a country of brave people in southern India. The horrors of this conquest made him so remorseful over the suffering of the people that he gave up war completely. And it was at this time that King Asoka became converted to Buddhism. From this moment he adopted the policy of {tooltip}Dharmavijaya{end-link}Conquest by righteousness or conquest of men's hearts by the law of Duty or Piety{end-tooltip} in place of {tooltip}Sangamavijaya{end-link}Conquest by war{end-tooltip}, and spent the rest of his life promoting Dharma or the law of Piety through out his great empire. He was changed from Candasoka, or Asoka the Fierce, to Dharmasoka, or Asoka the Righteous, whose example all later great kings tried to follow {tooltip}1{end-link} Phra Rajavaramuni (Prayudh Payutto), Thai Buddhism in the Buddhist World, Bangkok: Mahachulalongkorn Alumni Association, B.E. 2527 / 1984 C.E. pp. 28-9{end-tooltip}.

In accordance with this policy of piety, King Asoka had his edicts inscribed on rocks and pillars which were scattered everywhere throughout his empire to carry the message to his people.In the 18th year of his reign, the Third Buddhist Council was held under his patronage at {tooltip}Pataliputra (modern Patna){end-link}The modern city of Patna is situated on the southern bank of the Ganges in the state of Bihar in eastern India. The city also straddles the rivers Kosi, Sone and Gandak and Punpun.{end-tooltip}, his capital, with the object of purging the {tooltip}Sangha{end-link}(lit. "group, assembly") is usually used in one of two ways: it refers either to the community of ordained monks or to the community of "noble ones" — persons who have attained at least stream-entry, the first stage of Awakening.{end-tooltip} of heretics and preserving the pure teachings of the Buddha.

 After the Council, nine missions of elders were sent to preach the Dharma in various states and foreign countries. Of these, the mission headed by the elder Mahinda, his son, carried the Message of Buddhism to Ceylon, and the other mission headed by elders Sona and Uttara were sent to Suvarnabhumiwhich some scholars identified with Nakhom Pathom province in Central Thailand {tooltip}2{end-link}Phra Rajavaramuni. Op. Cit., p29{end-tooltip}

Looking back on Thai history, it may be seen clearly the close relationship between Buddhism and the Thai nation.

The Thai nation settled firmly in present-day Thailand more than 700 years ago, and also it adopted the present form of Buddhism since then. Buddhism has been the state religion of Thailand. Under the constitution, the King as a symbol of the nation, although a protector of all religions, must be a Buddhist. Around 95 percent of the Thai population is Buddhist. Buddhism has a deep influence in all kinds of Thai culture such as Thai arts, tradition, architecture, sculpture, painting, drama, learning, and the character of the people.In has modeled their manner of thinking and acting. In short, it has become an integral part of Thai life.{tooltip}3{end-link}Ibid. p. 11.{end-tooltip}

Around B.E. 1800/{tooltip}1257 C.E{end-link}1257 A.D.{end-tooltip}, King Ramkhamheang the Great of Sukhothai brought Buddhist monks from Nakhom Si Thammarat in the south to propagate Ceylonese Buddhist in Sukhothai, the capital of Thailand in the north. Since then the Ceylonese Buddhism spread all over the country. Every Thai king is a devout Buddhist and great patron of Buddhism. In the reign of King Taksin the Great of Thonburi, after his liberation of the country from the yoke of Burma in B.E. 2310/{tooltip}1767 C.E.{end-link}1767 A.D.{end-tooltip}, he gave the country for Buddha-Puja or Buddhist adoration. And King Phraphutthayotfa or King Rama 1 of {tooltip}Cakri{end-link}Most texts spell the dynasty name as Chakri{end-tooltip} Dynasty of Krung Thep (Bangkok) had also an intention to be a Great Patron of Buddhism.

King Ramkhamheang of Sukhothai withhis court and all of his magnates, practiced the religion of Buddha with devotion. King Mahadharmaraja Lithai, Ramkhamheang's grandson, who reigned in Sukhothai during B.E. 1860-1890/1317-1347 C.E., was a devout Buddhist scholar and he composed a large treatise on Buddhist cosmology called "Traibhumikatha" or Traiphum Phra Ruang" this was the first literature book written in the Thai language{tooltip}4{end-link}Hall, D.G.E. A History of South-East Asia, New York: St. Martin's Press Inc., 1955, p. 150.{end-tooltip}

During Sukhothai and Ayutthaya periods, there were a number of Thai monks who travelled to Ceylon to study Pali Buddhism. Those who were ordained and graduated in Ceylon were revered and honoured by the kings, as well as the Thai people, as great scholars or learned monks. Many of them were well versed in the Palilanguage and wrote a great deal of books on Buddhism as well as the history of Buddhism and Thai history. Many of the books were written in a native script both in the Pali language as well as in the native one of their time.

In former days, the education of Thai people was in the hands of the Buddhist monks. "Wat" (the temples) were the center of Thai education. There were no lay schools at all. When Thai men were young, they served as temple boys in the temples and were given instruction in reading, writing, and simple arithmetic as well as in Buddhism and morals. Every Thai man who is 20 years of age, is expected to be ordained as a monk for at least three months in the rainy season. Many of them were ordained as novices to study Dharama and the Pali language before becoming a monk. During their novicehood or monkhood, they must study Buddhism, both Vinaya and Dharma, to become good Buddhists. In studying Dharma in general as well as as Dharma of the leity for preparing themselves to be good lay Buddhist after leaving novicehood or monkhood. If they stay in novicehood or monkhood, they study higher Dharma and Pali language. Some of remain in monkhood for life. The Thai society respects one who was ordained as a monk even for a while. After leaving monkhood, they are call "thit" which words from the Pali word "Pandita" or learned man. In former days, the parents of women usually did not give their daughter to marry a man who was never ordained as a monk. An unordained man is usually called "Khon Dip" or an unripe man, and the ordained one is "Khon Suk" or the ripe one. In addition, it is believed than an ordained son may give much merit from his ordination to his parents bothstill alive and deceased. This is a good way of influencing Thai people with the Buddha-Dharma. Even Thai kings have been ex-novices or ex-monks. All kings of {tooltip}Cakri{end-link}Most texts spell the dynasty name as Chakri{end-tooltip} Dynasty were ordained as monks for a while. King Phrachomklao or King Rama IV was a monk for 27 years.

 Throughout traditional ordination which is still observer today, the Thai people are bound to the Order by ties of experience or close relationship with the monks who are their former sons, relatives, or friends. They live in the Buddhist environment in which they are linked with the religion by custom, by attending religious rites, ceremonies and temple festivals, or by benefiting, either directly or indirectly, from some activities and spiritual influence of the religious institution. Buddhism is their national heritage, the glory of their country which, they feel bound to preserve. Their cycle of life turns around activities directly or indirectly connected to Buddhism.{tooltip}5{end-link}Phra Rajavararamuni. Op. Cit., p. 13{end-tooltip}

To be continued ...


As you may know, more than 95% of the population of Thailand is Buddhist. The Buddhist clergy (as we would say in America) are referred to as Monks. Like all religions Monks live by a separate and more restrictive code. Among the restrictions that a Monk follows is to depend on the people of the community for food. In Thailand it is not unusual to see people presenting food to the Monks as they walk along the street with their alms bowl. This provides two major benefits: it provides bodily nourishment to the monks. In addition, lay people earn merit by feeding the Monks.

A Monk living in America follows the same rules. Every day at 11 AM at Wat Tampa lay members of the Wat bring food for the Monks. This, like so many of the activities at our temple, is done by volunteers. This is a joyous occasion as the lay people are earning merit. Usually, about once a month we have a public ceremony to give food to the Monks. On these days people earn merit by giving food to the Monks in a public ceremony. Most people will give one "meal" consisting of rice, a meat dish, and desert. Others may give water (or some beverage), flowers, and perhaps a small monetary contribution which the Monks use for soap, etc. What is given is not as important as giving. For the convenience of all, we have small containers of food for sell on alms days for those who need it. The food is donated by various members of the Thai community and all the proceeds go to the temple.

It is useful to discuss the role that the Wat plays in Thai life. As you probably expect the Wat is the center of religious activity. For Thai people, here and in Thailand the Wat plays a number of other roles. The Monks, as do leaders in other religions, play an important role in comforting people in times of distress (e.g., funerals) as well as preside over other ceremonies. In Thailand it is not unusual for a young man to become a Monk for 3 months or more. The length of time that a man stays a Monk is variable. Becoming a Monk is another way to earn merit. It also increases the young man’s knowledge of the Buddhist way of life. This helps strengthen the young man’s concept service to others as well as strengthens the bond between generations (common experience).

In some cases the Wat also provides social services such as hosting schools and providing lodging for the homeless. For example, Wat Tampa offers a summer school program that teaches Thai reading and writing, Thai customs, and (depending on the teacher) other activities such as Thai dancing. To many Thai’s the Wat is central to their daily lives. While this is probably less true for Thai people living in the United States the fact that so many people come to the Wat in times of stress is testament to the central role that Buddhism and the Wat play in the lives of Thai people.

I’d like to talk a little bit about Thai customs that you may have seen but not understood. Thailand has a rich culture and reputation for friendliness and informality. There are some things to keep in mind as you visit the Wat. Thai’s are very understanding so don’t expect that anyone will correct you on the tips below.

Although Thais appear to be very informal there is, as they say, more behind the scenes. In Thai society age and rank play a very key part in polite society. The Wai (as shown above) is a greeting and you may notice this as part of paying respect to your elders. There are some simple things to keep in mind when "Waiing".

The younger person (especially when there is a significant difference in age) initiates the wai. The older person returns the wai. Many times you’ll hear someone say "sa-wat-di". This is the universal greeting. You may also hear the word "Kha" or "Kop" added after "sa-wat-di". "Kha" is a polite particle used by female speakers. "kap" is the polite particle for males.

The exception to this is when greeting a monk. The person would wai the monk. The monk does not return the wai but simply acknowledges the greeting.

We invite you to view interior of the temple. Please remove your shoes before entering. You will find a good display of books on Buddhism that are free.

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