One of the best Songkran Parades in Thailand is held in Phra Pradaeng District in Samut Prakan Province. It is traditional for the Mon people in this region to release birds and fish during Songkran in order to make merit for themselves. Many of the townspeople dress up in their best clothes and then parade through the town to Wat Proteket Chettharam.
Many people in the parade either carry bowls of fish or bird cages. They take them to the temple where they then release them back into the wild. In this picture you can see the Samut Prakan Governor together with other government officials and the winners of the Miss Songkran Beauty Contest.
These days people don’t just release wild animals during Songkran. They will often do it when they go to visit a temple or on their birthday. They believe that by releasing the birds and fish that they are saving a life. However, what they often forget is that these creatures were captured just for them to make merit. So, this sin cancels out any merit they try to make!
Abbots of some temples have started to ban people from selling birds and fish for this purpose. However, the tradition for this dates back to the days of the Buddha. There was once a novice monk, who on hearing from his abbot that he was going to die within seven days, decided to travel back to his home to say goodbye to his parents. Along the way he saw some fish which had been stranded in a puddle. So, using his robe he carefully carried them to a nearby river and set them free.
Next he came across some birds that were caught in a trap. As it would have been a sin to “steal” these birds he decided to sit and pray for their welfare. Shortly later a gust of wind dislodged the trap and set them free. He then continued on his way to his parents. Several weeks passed and he did not die. So, he went back to his abbot and asked him why. They decided that he was saved by his meritorious acts of freeing the birds and fish.