A set of old Buddha images were the centre of attention during the watering ceremony. Karnjana Karnjanatawe
Although the nationwide celebration of Songkran was two weeks ago, the traditional Lanna Songkran ceremony in Chiang Rai marked its revival last Friday, after having disappeared for 30 years.
The ceremony was organised by the Mae Fah Luang Foundation at Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park in the city of Chiang Rai. The event was called Sra Klao Dam Hua, which roughly means Blessed with Water.
But no one got wet in the ceremony. Only a little water was used, for dropping on the palms of respected people.
“The Songkran celebration is not only about soaking people with water; it is the day that we express our gratitude to the elderly, including our parents and those who have done good things for our society,” said Nakorn Pongnoi, director of the Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park.
The celebration can be organised any day after the date of wan phraya wan in the northern dialect or wan maha songkran (which this year was April 14) until the end of April.
The foundation decorated a lawn next to its museum with colourful flowers, arranged beautifully like a rainbow with shades of pale and bold yellow, red, white and purple. In the centre was a set of old Lanna-style Buddha images that were placed on a raised four-step platform. Each step was fully decorated with white lotus harvested from a pound in the park early in the morning.
Nam khamin som poi.
In one corner stood a red half-open wooden pipe with a naga head and open mouth, called rang phayanak. Below it were two levels of half-open bamboo tubes that reached to a large silver bowl. Inside the bowl were white cotton yarns leading to each base of the 16 seated-Buddha images. The set of Buddha images were part of the old collection of the foundation. They are made of wood and rarely displayed for the public.
Strictly following the tradition, the foundation prepared nam khamin som poi for watering the Buddha images and the elderly.
Nam khamin som poi was made of water that had been turned light yellow because of the mix of turmeric. Also added in the water were grilled, dried fruit pods of som poi or shikakai (Acacia concinna) and petals of dok saraphi (Mammea siamensis) and dok khamfoi or safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) for sweet fragrance.
It is an old belief of the Lanna people that nam khamin som poi can take away bad luck, dark magic and evil.
“We do not throw water directly to Buddha images. In traditional Lanna culture, we do it in a more polite manner, which is to gradually pour nam khamin som poi into the stepped wooden pipes,” he said. “We are humble, small people, so we use the pipe with the naga head to bring water to the images,” he said.
The northern people believed that Buddha images were the living Buddha, so they treated them with high respect.
The foundation also invited a pair of so-called local wise men and women (prat chaoban) from 18 districts in Chiang Rai to join the water-blessing ceremony.
“I am very glad that I was chosen as a representative of Phan district,” said Buangao Sritabutr, 73. “It is a big and beautiful event.”
After watering Buddha images, there was a religious session, with monks chanting and blessing all the participants. Then a flower bouquet and nam khamin som poi were presented to an image of the late HRH Princess Srinagarindra, or Somdet Ya (the grandmother of His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun), who initiated Mae Fah Luang Foundation.
A team of local poets was invited to read, followed by traditional dance performances.
A monk pouring nam khamin som poi into the half-opened wooden pipe. Karnjana Karnjanatawe
Water flows from the naga head down a bamboo pipe to the Buddha images (not shown in the photo).
Receiving blessed water through a flower panicle.
Thanphuying Putrie Viravaidya, right, receives well-wished water from guests.
The celebration ended when it was the time to show gratitude to the local wise men and women and those who have done good things for society.
The ceremony was chaired by Thanphuying Putrie Viravaidya, secretary-general and a board member of the Mae Fah Luang Foundation, accompanied by Khunying Puangroi Diskul Na Ayudhaya, deputy secretary-general and a board member, and Chiang Rai Governor Narongsak Osottanakorn.
About 400 participants joined the ceremony last Friday afternoon. Many queued up to put water on the chairperson and the elderly. After receiving a few drops of nam khamin som poi in her palms, Thanphuying Putrie touched her forehead and hair.
“It is not appropriate to throw water on the heads of old people. As per tradition, I just do it myself with the well-wished water,” she said. From time to time, she sprinkled little drops of water back as a blessing by using a tiny panicle of fragrant flowers in her palms.
“This traditional Lanna Songkran ceremony is authentic. I am glad that we have brought it back to life,” said Governor Narongsak.
The governor has a plan to help promote the ceremony as an annual celebration as he wants people to know more about Chiang Rai as a destination for Lanna culture, arts and religion.
A chance will come again next year to revive the event.
“We want to preserve the ceremony for younger generations,” he said. “When people think about a traditional Lanna Songkran event, we want them to think about Chiang Rai.”