The Songkran Festival in Thailand is not all about water splashing and having fun. Thai people also take time out to visit their local temples to make merit and also to pour rose scented water over the hands of their elders. They do this in order to receive a blessing and good luck for the new year. Some families also go to their local temple to pray and make merit for dead ancestors. The ashes of these ancestors are often contained in miniature “chedis” which are like upturned handbells. This afternoon I went to visit Wat Chaimongkol in Samut Prakan where they were taking part in an activity called “phra chedi sai” or Sand Pagodas in English.
This is an activity for all the family to enjoy. According to local tradition, at this time of year, people bring back bowls of sand to the temple which they may have inadvertently carried away on the bottom of their shoes. They would then use this sand to build miniature pagodas in the temple compound. Over the years this has evolved as it is no longer practical for townspeople to find sand to bring to the temple. So, the temple now orders sand b ythe truckload and the monks prepare everything by making equal piles of sand in an open space in the temple. They also prepare for the local people candles, joss sticks, flowers and flags. They will then “buy” these by giving the temple a donation. By doing so they are making merit.
The size and style of each chedi is really up to the individuals. Some have very basic designs with little thought apart from the need to make merit. However, others pull out all the stops to produce a dazzlingly beautiful and unique chedi adorned with beautiful flowers and colourful pebbles. The competition seems to be fierce at times with some families doing their best to outdo their neighbours. Coins are often buried in the chedi for good luck. Once finished, all of the family members will light joss sticks and then squat down to say a short prayer. The pagoda is then sprayed with scented water. The paper banknotes are later given to the temple as part of the merit making.