"Sabaidee Bhi Mai" or "Happy New Year" to all Lao people around the world. Wishing u all a happy, healthy and prosperous new year.
These are photographs courtesy of LPMaradok, showcasing the festivities of Songkran in my hometown of Luang Prabang. here is a brief story of why in Luang Prabang we choose a NanSangkhan.
The role of Nang Sangkhan (Sangkhan Ladies) makes its presence during the New Year festivities through the reenactment of the myth of how the divine King Kabinlaphom (Brahma) lost his life due to losing a bet with Thammaban (Dhammapala), the Great Sage, and was decapitated. However, he warned that if his head touched the earth, a catastrophic fire would swallow the world, if it touched the sea, the ocean would dry up, if it touched the sky, rainfall would cease it exist. Kabinlaphom instructed his seven daughters to place his decapitated head in a cave on the foot of Mount Sumeru, a place neither of this world nor that of the gods. To pay homage to their father and to prevent the occurrence of natural disasters, every year, one of the seven daughters attend to the decapitated head by cleansing it and leading a procession around the base of Mount Sumeru to show their reverence to Kabinlaphom.
The myth of the Nang Sangkhan embodied the values associated with the New Year Festival mentioned earlier. The selfless act of paying homage to Kabinlaphom not only is an example of filial piety by his daughters, but also an act of compassion. In preventing the catastrophic world destruction by Kabinlaphom’s severed head, the Nang Sangkhan serve as protectors of the world, an ultimate act of merit-making. This myth has been re-enacted throughout centuries as part of the New Year festivities, of which a “replica” of Kabinlaphom’s severed head is paraded around “centers” or structures that represent Mount Sumeru (i.e. Temples, villages, sand stupas, etc…
The historical reasoning for instituting the Nang Sangkhan myth with the Lao New Year festivities is quite practical. In an era where the majority of societal members were illiterate, the presence of the Nang Sangkhan provided the populace a glimpse of time and space. Each of Kabinlaphom’s daughters is associated with the days of the week. The specific day and time of the arrival of the Sangkhan Kheun Pii Mai (as determined by the passing of the Sun into the constellation Aries) determines which of Kabinlaphom’s daughters will lead the procession and whether she will stand, sit, or lie down on her chariot.
Scenes in Luang Prabang during New Year Celebrations or also known as Sangkhan.
There are three values associated with the Sangkhan Festival that I would like to discuss. First, it enhances the value of society by bringing families and community together. Secondly, meritorious acts such as charity work or giving alms to Buddhist monks deepens the values of showing compassion. In fact, the Lao word for festival is Boun (Pali: Punna), derivative of a Pali word which means merit. Therefore, by participating in festivals such as the Lao New Year, members of the community partake in the auspicious act of merit-making. Lastly, filial piety, the respect and reverence to family, parents, and ancestors is an utmost important factor in Lao society, and is highly visible during the New Year celebration. This is done through offering gifts to elders as tokens of gratitude and respect, and in return receiving their blessings. These activities also parallel the cleansing and regeneration symbolized by the arrival of rain.