Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 18.COM 8.B.10

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Thailand has nominated Songkran in Thailand, traditional Thai New Year festival (No. 01719) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

In Thailand, Songkran refers to the sun’s annual passing into the Aries constellation, the first sign of the Zodiac, which marks the traditional start of the new year. Occurring in mid-April after the rice harvest, it is a time when people reunite with their families and pay their respects to older adults, ancestors and sacred Buddha images. Pouring water is a significant act during Songkran, symbolizing cleansing, reverence and good fortune. Other activities include bathing important Buddha images, splashing water on family and friends, folk plays, games, music and feasting. The tradition is passed on through participation in the festivities. Parents transmit the tradition to their children orally through regular social and family interactions. Educational institutes, government agencies, the media and Thai astrologers also play an important role in preserving, promoting and transmitting the astrological knowledge and wisdom related to Songkran. Songkran promotes community cooperation, unity and forgiveness. It is viewed as a time to symbolically wash away misfortunes, pray for prosperity for the coming year, reunite with family members, and honour ancestors and older adults. Furthermore, by emphasizing the importance of older adults and of family, Songkran helps to combat loneliness and social isolation.

  1. Considers that, from the information included in the file, the nomination satisfies the following criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

R.1:   Songkran is a festival practiced by diverse Buddhist communities, including ethnic communities, throughout Thailand. The three-to-seven-day festival begins with women and children coming together to clean and decorate houses and public places. People then visit temples to make merit, give alms to monks, bathe Buddha images, pay homage to their ancestors, build sand pagodas and make donations for temple construction. Astrologers, Chief Monks, craftspeople, men, women and children all pay a role in the celebration, and the related knowledge and skills are passed down at the household and national levels, as well as through formal and non-formal education. The element helps to promote traditional values. Its social and cultural functions include symbolically washing away the misfortunes of the past and calling on prosperity for the coming year, reuniting family members, revering elders and ancestors, Buddhist merit-making, community cooperation, celebrating unity and forgiveness and well-wishing.

R.2:   The information provided explains how inscription of the element would contribute to ensuring visibility and awareness of the significance of intangible cultural heritage at the local, national and international levels. Songkran comprises different practices of living heritage within diverse local communities throughout Thailand. Its inscription would help people in those communities recognize the importance of intangible cultural heritage and raise awareness of its specific aspects. Promoting local festivities will also promote dialogue within and among local communities. Since Songkran celebrations vary according to the regions and communities, inscription would promote the appreciation of cultural diversity and creativity. Such awareness and respect will result in the exchange of knowledge, improved relations, and peace among communities, at the national and global levels. Inscription would also create opportunities for cultural exchange across communities of different social and religious backgrounds.

R.3:   The viability of the element is maintained through its practice and transmission within families, Buddhist temples and schools. Thai society at large also promotes Songkran’s continuation, including through media. The State Party has contributed to safeguarding by declaring different public holidays in the context of Songkran. Several authorities have also taken measures to support the logistical management of activities and avoid over-commercialization. Relevant ministries, in collaboration with the communities, groups and individuals concerned, have undertaken research, identification and documentation activities, and included content about the element into school curricula. The proposed safeguarding measures strive to protect, maintain, transmit and revitalize the social and cultural meanings of Songkran by promoting the related practices and meanings at the local level. This includes empowering people, including women, youth and marginalized groups, with the related knowledge and skills, and strengthening management of the festival. Special attention will be given to preventing unintended consequences of inscription, such as over-commercialization, excessive and unsafe expansion of the celebration in public spaces, and unsustainable use of water resources.

R.4:   The file details the participation of communities, groups and individuals concerned in the nomination process. Since 2014, documentation, interviews and exchanges have taken place with community stakeholders, including folk scholars, artists, respected elders, Buddhist monks, spiritual leaders, teachers, lecturers, academics, local historians, local administrators and youth leaders. Since 2019, the Ministry of Culture has provided financial aid to an academic team to conduct a study on certain aspects connected with the Songkran nomination file. The study focused on five regional provinces and entailed the organization of four workshops and a public hearing. There was wide community participation in the activities, which resulted in consent for the nomination. The file is accompanied by a wide range of consent letters, including from community organizations and representatives.

R.5:   Songkran has been part of the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2011. The inventory is maintained by various departments and organizations, including the Department of Cultural Promotion of the Ministry of Culture. Documentation on Songkran included research on its history, definition, practices, and the roles of men and women and of different professions in its maintenance and transmission. The process involved interviewing local wisdom bearers, monks, community leaders, craftsmen, academics, teachers, youth and relevant practitioners. The inventory is updated every three years, with each update entailing revisions from the communities concerned.

  1. Decides to inscribe Songkran in Thailand, traditional Thai New Year festival on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity;
  2. Commends the State Party on a well-prepared file that features strong participation of the relevant communities, groups and individuals in the overall nomination process;
  3. Further commends the State Party for highlighting the threats to the element and for proposing safeguarding measures to address them.