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Songkran is the traditional Thai New Year water festival which starts on April 13 every year.

The word Songkran comes from the Pali language of the Therevada Buddhist scriptures (Sankhara) and the Sanskrit word (Sankranti) for movement or change.

In ancient times, it was celebrated as a moveable feast, and set to occur as the sun moved into the Aries portion of the zodiac. In modern times the date has been fixed as April 13.

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Although the Thai people officially changed the New Year to January 1 in 1940 to coincide with the Western business world, the traditional Songkran Festival is still celebrated as a national holiday in Thailand.

The festival lasts for 4 days. Maha Songkran Day is the first day of the celebrations which marks the end of the old year. April 14, Wan Nao is the day between the ending of the old year and the beginning of the new year when foods are prepared for the temples. The third day of Songkran, April 15, is Wan Thaloeng Sok – the day on which the New Year begins and on the last day, Wan Parg-bpee, the ancestors and elders are honored.

The Songkran Festival shares some similarities with the Holi festival in India celebrated around the same time. One custom that Songkran shares with Holi is the releasing of small fish back into the rivers and steams. In Thailand, small birds may also be released from cages as part of the festivities.

While in India the throwing of colored water marks Holi, the Thai Songkran Festival involves throwing clear water – and lots of it! – although many add colored powders and scents to the water in Thai New Year celebrations in playful “water wars.”

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The tradition traces back to the pre-Buddist rituals of spring festivals where the throwing of water was meant as a symbol of luck to bring good rain for the crops. It was later converted to the religious custom of cleansing the statues of Buddha once a year. In many places there are parades with the statues of Buddha and as the parades pass, crowds shower the Buddha with water.

Pouring small amounts of scented lustral water on the heads of the elders on Wan Parg-bpee as a sign of respect is also part of this custom. In many temples throughout Thailand people bring sand to symbolically replace the sand that they have carried away on their sandals throughout the year. The sand is formed into pagodas called phra chedis sai and decorated with colorful flags as part of the Songkran New Year festivities. It may be that this tradition began as part of the cleansing rituals where new, clean sand was added to the floor of the temple once a year.

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The foods that are served at traditional Songkran Festivals depend on the part of Thailand you visit. Pad Thai Noodles; Khao Chae, a delicious rice dish; Gaeng Kiew Wahn Gai, chicken with green curry; krayasad, a mixture made from puffed rice, oats, peanuts and Thai noodles that is sweetened with palm sugar and coconut syrup; Kanom Tom, sticky rice and mung bean balls piled high into a pyramid shaped dessert and Kanom Krok, coconut rice pancakes are some of the more universal Thai foods enjoyed during the Songkran festival.

thailand_king_birth_dayKing Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest reigning monarch who is regarded as a demi-god by many Thais, was pushed in a wheelchair through the hospital grounds, wearing the customary full white royal uniform.
Thailand’s revered king left a Bangkok hospital on Saturday, according to an AFP reporter at the scene, to attend a ceremony at the royal palace to mark his 82nd birthday. The king, followed by his family, raised his hand to wave at a crowd of thousands of people who had gathered, wearing pink for good luck, to greet the revered monarch. They shouted: “Long live the king.”

The birthday of King Bhumibol, who is considered a unifying force in a politically turbulent nation, is marked by a public holiday and celebrated by Thais across the kingdom with fireworks and Buddhist rituals.

Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej speaks during a ceremony at the Grand Palace in Bangkok December 5, 2009. Thailand’s aging monarch, King Bhumibol, appeared in public for the first time in more than a month on Saturday ahead of a royal ceremony to mark his 82nd birthday.

His son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, is due to represent his father at Buddhist ceremonies on Saturday evening and Sunday, and will preside over a garden party for diplomats on December 8.

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King Bhumibol Adulyadej has been on the throne since 1946, quite a few more years than Britain’s Queen.

He is popular and respected. But there are concerns about what happens once he has gone. And with an Eton and Oxford-educated party leader who is battling against an older rival for political control of the country, it is a rather familiar scenario to readers in the UK.

It is not only King Bhumibol’s longevity and continuity that keeps Thais in awe but a widespread belief that this is the father of the country.

To the Western eye, Thailand is permeated with tangible and intangible levels of hierarchy based on age, status and wealth. Yet there is one very obvious and undisputed leader who has achieved almost quasi-deity status.

He is a constitutional king with no formal political role, but many regard the influental man as the only person who can unify the country, which has been divided by various political and other interest groups.

During his reign over the past six decades, he has introduced the self suffiency economy concept and initiated more than 3,000 royal projects to improve the livelihood of the mostly rural population.

He has also turned his residence at the Chitralada Palace into a R&D centre for agriculture, believed to be the only palace in the world that is surrounded by paddy fields, dairy farms, fruit and vegetable orchards as well as aquaculture ponds.

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Bangkok is the best place in the country to enjoy the celebrations. Do remember that streets around Sanam Luang and Ratchadamnoen are prohibited to traffic. One can reach the area, and just stroll on the streets, traffic-free but brimming with people, watching the glittering sky.
Millions of Thais wore pink today to symbolise their wish for his good health while hundreds of thousands thronged the roads to try to take a glimpse of the King when his motorcade travelled from the hospital to the Grand Palace.

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Meanwhile, thousands of well wishers turn up at Siriraj Hospital each day to pray for the king’s health. Doctors have insisted that the king has improved and he is not in anything approaching a serious condition. But his long stay at the hospital and continued absence from public view has fueled unease, speculation and rumors. Recently, the government arrested four people for allegedly spreading rumors about the king’s health on the internet, which, it claims, caused a stock market sell-off in October. Reporters Without Borders, an international media watchdog group, has said those arrested are scapegoats and the charges are baseless.

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Thais throughout the country start celebrating HM the King’s 82th anniversary

Loy Krathong Festival

02 of November 2009

Loy Krathong is held on the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. In the western calendar this usually falls in November.

“Loi” means “to float”. “Krathong” is a raft about a handspan in diameter traditionally made from a section of banana loy_krathong2tree trunk (although modern-day versions use specially made bread ‘flowers’ and may use styrofoam), decorated with elaborately-folded banana leaves, flowers, candles, incense sticks etc. During the night of the full moon, many people will release a small raft like this on a river. Governmental offices, corporations and other organizations also build much bigger and more elaborate rafts, and these are often judged in contests. In addition, fireworks and beauty contests take place during the festival.

The beauty contests that accompany the festival are known as “Noppamas Queen Contests”. According to legend, Noppamas was a consort of the Sukothai king Loethai (14th century) and she was the first to float decorated krathongs. The Loi Krathong festival is also associated with the start of vegetable carving.

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The festival probably originated in India as a Hindu festival similar to Deepavali as thanksgiving to the deity of the Ganges with floating lanterns for giving life throughout the year. According to the writings of H.M. King Rama IV in 1863, the originally Brahmanical festival was adapted by Buddhists in Thailand as a ceremony to honour the original Buddha, Siddhartha Guatama. Apart from venerating the Buddha with light (the candle on the raft), the act of floating away the candle raft is symbolic of letting go of all one’s grudges, anger and defilements, so that one can start life afresh on a better foot. People will also cut their fingernails and hair and add them to the raft as a symbol of letting go of the bad parts of oneself. Many Thai believe that floating a krathong will create good luck, and they do it to honor and thank the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha.

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The Thai tradition of Loy Kratong started off in Sukhothai, but is now celebrated throughout Thailand, with the festivities in Chiang Mai and Ayutthaya being particularly well known.

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In Chiang Mai Loi Kratong is also known as “Yi Peng”. Every year thousands of people assemble to float the banana-leaf krathong onto the waterways of the city, honouring the Goddess of Water. A multitude of Lanna-style sky lanterns (khom fai) are also launched into the air where they resemble large flocks of giant fluorescent jellyfish gracefully floating by through the skies. These are believed to help rid the locals of troubles and are also taken to decorate houses and streets.

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