The Water-Sprinkling Festival Of The Dai Ethnic Minority

Time & Place

Time: Annually, from April 13-15

Place: The city of Jinghong, Xishuangbanna Prefecture, southwestern Yunnan Province

Featured: Splashing, spraying and dousing each other with water

The annual Water Splashing Festival of the Dai ethnic minority falls during the New Year celebrations of the Dai Calendar. It is the most important festival observed by the Dai ethnic people of Xishuangbanna Prefecture, and, similar to neighboring Thailand’s Songkran Festival, it involves three days of celebrations that include sincere, yet light-hearted religious rituals that invariably end in merrymaking, where everyone ends up getting splashed, sprayed or doused with water.

During the first two days of the festival, a dragon boat race is held to ring out the old year (the first day of the festival) and to ring in the new (the second day of the festival). The third day, the climax of the festival, is reserved for water splashing. On that day, the Dai people put on their newest and best clothes, then assemble at the local Buddhist temple, where the monks chant Buddhist sciptures. Afterward, a symbolic water splashing ritual is enacted whereby a Buddhist statue, with pomp and ceremony, is first coaxed out of the temple to the courtyard, then is splashed with water. This important ritual is called ‘Bathing the Buddha’.

The completion of the ‘Bathing the Buddha’ ritual serves as the signal that encourages ordinary mortals to themselves engage in mutual water splashing. Accordingly, people flock to the streets with pots, pans, bottles, or whatever, where they uninhibitedly splash, spray and douse each other with water, with the same gusto with which Westerners engage in a good snowball free-for-all.

The Water Splashing ceremony, however, is more than just good-natured fun; it also contains a religious element: water is regarded by the Dai as a symbol, firstly, of religious purity, but also of goodwill among people. Therefore, splashing a fellow human being with water during the Water Splashing Festival, whether a close neighbor or a fellow villager – or even a stranger – is an expression of the desire for good luck and prosperity to that person.

For the tourist interested in interacting directly with the Dai ethnic minority of Xishangbanna Prefecture in an informal and fun-filled manner, the annual Water Splashing Festival that takes place in the month of April is the perfect occasion. China Highlights offers a special tour to the city of Jinghong each year to coincide with the Dai ethinic minority’s annual Water Splashing Festival.

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