This blog is officially two years old. Our first post in 2008 marked the Other Lunar New Year. (I write “lunar” although several countries time their celebrations in line with the Gregorian calendar.) I’d like to think of this date as a most auspicious anniversary. As I wrote then:
This festival is widely celebrated in nations that are predominantly Theravada Buddhist, so this theme is both fitting and auspicious for our first post! You may often hear/see this celebration called Songkran in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, Thingyan in Burma and Aluth Avurudhu in Sri Lanka. This new year is also celebrated in Nepal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam, Punjab and Bengal (including Bangladesh). Apparently it’s not as much of a fest elsewhere in South Asia.
Similar posts from the past are here and here. I couldn’t find any writing on this holiday hanging around the anglophonic Buddhist blogosphere—save a background mention in a Tricycle post. Can’t say I’m surprised! It’s a sad and disappointing sort of vindication—if it weren’t for the Angry Asian Buddhist, I wonder how many self-styled “Western” Buddhists would recognize this holiday at all.
(Inspired by a previous post by kudos.)
This is probably a question that few care to ask, but I thought I’d slop together some information for anyone who was interested in knowing more about this holiday. I usually refer to it as Songkran/Thingyan, but this term (as I understand) is most often used to just denote the first day of New Year celebrations. Temple visits and blessings are typical, but I’ve never really thought of this holiday as Buddhist.
I have been greeting all my Thai, Lao, Burmese, Mon, Khmer and Sri Lankan friends with Happy New Year. But it so happens that one of my best friends is Bengali (and Muslim), and he was quick to point out that this is also the Bengali New Year, known as Pohela Boishakh, celebrated by both Indian and Bangladeshi Bengalis. Not only that, he continued, it’s also the South Indian, East Indian (Assamese, Manipuri, Oriya, Bengali), Nepalese and Punjabi New Year. While the Southeast Asian areas that celebrate this holiday are predominantly Buddhist, the other areas in South Asia are predominantly non-Buddhist. They are mostly Hindu, Muslim or Sikh. So from that more regional perspective, this day isn’t a Buddhist holiday at all.
I can barely believe that I wrote our first Dharma Folk post one year ago today. We had no idea what we were going to do with this blog. We had a lot of thoughts and things to say about Buddhism and the Buddhist community. We figured we might as well start a blog and start writing.
Today is the start of the “other” Asian New Year. In Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, it’s celebrated as Songkran. In Burma, it’s called Thingyan. Both are modern derivatives of the Sanskrit sankranti, which refers to an “astrological passage.” If you get the chance to go to temple for a New Year festivity, beware that this holiday is also known as the Water Festival. You might want to bring clothes that you don’t mind getting wet! (I know that this New Year is also celebrated in Sri Lanka, by both Sinhalese and Tamils. I just don’t know how they celebrate it.)
Of course, I have a snarky twist in store for every celebration…