Miscellaneous · Travel

Photo essay: Water festival aka ‘Sangken’ celebrations in Itanagar, Arunchal Pradesh

One of the important festivals celebrated by the Theravada Buddhist Community is the annual Sangken festival celebrated during the month of April each year. It is followed mainly by the people of the Khampti, Singpho and Tai Khamyang tribes during an auspicious time band lasting 52 hours over three days. The Lunar New Year begins soon after this festival and hence it is an ode to new beginnings; a time to bid adieu to the old and welcome the new.

Sangken is also celebrated as Songkran in countries like Thailand.  I recently had a chance to witness this festival at the Theravada Buddhist temple in the centre of Itanagar as part of the incredible SIANG RUSH 2019 programme.  The temple situated at an elevation exudes soothing and peaceful vibes.

Theravada Buddhist temple, Itanagar
Theravada Buddhist temple, Itanagar

Preparations were in full wing for the festival that was celebrated between 5.21 pm on 14-April to 9.26 pm on 16-April.  The enclosure to wash the idols of Buddha was ready as also were the buckets of clean water.

Theravada Buddhist temple, Itanagar
Theravada Buddhist temple, Itanagar
Water used for washing the idols of Buddha
Water used for washing the idols of Buddha

As the auspicious time approached, little idols of Lord Buddha were bought from the temple and placed in a small enclosure amidst the chanting of hymns and the beating of prayer drums.

Idols of Buddha being bought out and placed in a enclosure
Idols of Buddha being bought out and placed in a enclosure

As the last set of idols were placed, the enclosure was sealed and prayers were offered.  This whole exercise is known as the “Fra-Loung”.

Prayers at the Theravada Buddhist temple, Itanagar
Prayers at the Theravada Buddhist temple, Itanagar

Water was then poured into the trough which was connected to a spiral fountain in the enclosure.

Water being poured to wash the idols of Lord Buddha

And, as more and more water was poured into the trough it traversed into the enclosure and all the little idols were awash!  This ritual is known as the “Soun Fra”.

Soon, the crowd grew thick and fast and water was poured across the entire premises of the temple.  A tree that was symbolic of the main idol was washed too as the idol itself could not be bought out.

Main idol at the Theravada Buddhist temple
Main idol at the Theravada Buddhist temple

Water is considered a symbol of purity and good fortune and is also splashed on one another amidst a spirit of camaraderie.  People being doused and drenched with the water sans colour is quite a sight.  The festival ends with the idols being taken back to the temple and this ritual is known as “Fra Khoun”. 

Interacting with the devotees of the temple, I realized that the festival was not just a physical cleaning ritual that happens annually, but is also meant to be a ‘cleaning’ of the mind and spirit.  The festival was all about discarding negativity and embracing friendship and brotherhood.  It brought the community together and prayers were offered for peace, good health, harmony and unity.

Disclaimer: this post was made possible by the organizers of SIANG RUSH 2019.  Opinions, as always, are my own.

4 thoughts on “Photo essay: Water festival aka ‘Sangken’ celebrations in Itanagar, Arunchal Pradesh

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.