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April 8, 2009 > Thai temple to celebrate New Year tradition

Thai temple to celebrate New Year tradition

By Meenu Gupta
Photos By Courtesy of Manatcha Sakwit

The weather is warming and it's time to make a splash...at a monastery?

Songkran Day, the Thai traditional New Year which starts on April 13, is known as the "Water Festival" because people drench each other believing water will wash away bad luck. It will be celebrated this weekend at Fremont's Buddhist temple, when Wat Buddhanusorn will become Wet Buddhanusorn for the day.

The tradition started long ago by gently pouring a small amount of water on someone's hands or over a shoulder as a mark of respect. Among youth, the holiday evolved into splashing water on friends and strangers. Since April is the hottest month in Thailand, water brings a welcome relief.

Family members present gifts and pour scented water onto the hands of their parents and grandparents. The water is mixed with Thai fragrance, and sometimes the bowl contains floating flowers such as jasmine.

"We use scented water for special occasions," said Manatcha Sakwit, who handles public relations for the Wat. "It is also considered to be good luck and a blessing for the new year."

Besides throwing water, observers go to a Wat to pray and give food to the monks. They cleanse Buddha images at monasteries and household shrines by gently pouring scented water over them.

In many Thai cities, such as Chiang Mai, Buddha images from all of the city's important monasteries are paraded through the streets. As the images pass by on ornately decorated floats, people offer water as a symbol of ritually 'bathing' them.

Songkran is a Thai word which means "move" or "change place." On Songkran Day the sun changes its position and moves into the Aries zodiac.

As with the American New Year, some people make resolutions to refrain from bad behavior or to do good things. Songkran is a time for cleansing and renewal, so besides washing Buddha images, many Thais also give their homes a thorough cleaning.

Traditional activities at the Fremont festival will include offering alms to monks, enjoying Thai classical dance and music performances, releasing about 30 white doves and fishes at Quarry Lakes, playing lucky draw games, and eating authentic Thai food.

"Saturday is more subdued and has more of a focus on Buddhism and doing the 'right thing,'" said Lee Guio, a board member at Wat Buddhanusorn. "Part of doing the right thing is to respect life. On Sunday there will be a show [Thai classical dance and music], raffles and prize drawings. Later in the day the younger crowd will have fun wetting each other with water from squirt guns to large pails of water. Don't get involved unless you are ready to get soaked!"

"There is no entrance admission. However, visitors can purchase food and drink with tokens," Sakwit said. "Normally, people will come to the temple around 9:30-10 a.m. Some Buddhists prefer to come to the temple earlier, around 9 a.m., to discuss with monks. So the time is not that fixed. However, the food stands will be ready around 10 a.m."

Visitors can park at the Hacienda school on Niles Boulevard or at Quarry Lakes. The temple will provide free shuttles.

A pillar of the Bay Area's Thai community, Wat Buddhanusorn has celebrated the Songkran festival since the temple was established in 1983. The nonprofit organization was founded to propagate Buddha's teachings and promote Thai art, language and culture to all who are interested.

Songkran Day (Thai Traditional New Year)
Saturday - Sunday, Apr 11-12
9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Wat Buddhanusorn
36054 Niles Blvd., Fremont
(510) 790-2294
www.watbuddha.org

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