Singapore's 1st Songkran water festival goes dry

Children soaking one another with water guns, as Sembawang residents celebrate the Thai Songkran water festival and the Indian New Year Chithirai in a combined celebration event on 13 April 2013.

There will be no water pistol fights, celebrity dunk stations, or really, any kind of water fun at Singapore's first Songkran water festival on April 12 and 13.

The organisers of Celebrate Songkran 2014 at the Padang have taken heed of the national campaign to conserve water and nixed the water-based activities.

Instead, they will host a Water Conservation and Water Heritage Exhibition in conjunction with national water agency PUB.

The organisers said this was appropriate in view of the recent dry spell and current moves to cut back on water usage.

Though lighting designer Sanischaya Mankhongphithakkul, 25, agrees with the rationale, it still feels a little odd. "What's a water festival without water?"

During Songkran, celebrated every year during the Thai New Year from April 13 to 15, thousands take to the streets to douse each other with water guns and buckets.

Event organiser Leo Chin, 38, said the reworked concept does not detract from the celebration of water. "Water can either be saved or wasted. In this case, we have chosen to save it."

While he is bracing himself for some backlash, he does not expect it to affect the target of 10,000 participants over the two days.

Mr Chin said he cancelled all water-related activities after he had public feedback expressing concern about water wastage. He approached the PUB last week to explore how the event could support water conservation efforts.

Confirming this with The Straits Times, a PUB spokesman said: "While some rain has returned, the recent dry spell is a good reminder for all of us to not take our water for granted, and to conserve water."

Other activities at the event, costing more than half a million, will go on as planned. They include a bazaar of 30 vendors, a family carnival with rides and games and a muay thai tournament. Admission is free for these.

Another highlight is a planned two-day music festival which has sold more than 1,000 tickets, at $35 for each day. The concert will be headlined by American electro-hip hop act Far East Movement and feature Thai artists such as Film Rattapoom and Four Mod.

Meanwhile the festival, which is co-organised by event logistics company JBozz Consultants, has drawn flak in Thailand for riding on the well-known tradition.

The Bangkok Post reported last Wednesday that the director of the surveillance bureau at Thailand's Ministry of Culture, Ms Yupa Taweewattanakijbaworn, had threatened to sue festival organisers for undermining the values of the Thai festival.

Thailand's Songkran festivities are an attraction, drawing more than two million visitors from countries such as China, Japan and Australia in April last year.

It is also celebrated in Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, and by ethnic groups and tribes in China, Sri Lanka and India.

In Singapore, which has more than 50,000 Thais, celebrations are often held at venues such as Golden Mile Complex. The first level of the mall is sometimes transformed into a dance floor, and celebrants splash each other with water - sometimes from several storeys above.

Assistant Professor Suwichit Chaidaroon at Nanyang Technological University said the move to bring Songkran to Singaporeshows an appreciation of Songkran and Thai culture.

The Singapore office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand told The Straits Times it hopes the festival will be "depicted correctly" to ensure the true essence of Thai traditions and Songkran will not be lost or misrepresented. This could also help drive tourists to Thailand.

"Songkran, without a doubt, can only be experienced truly in Thailand," said its director Kanokkittika Kritwutikon.

Water or no water, landscape architect and expatriate Kanokwal Preechakul, 30, said she is looking forward to the festival. "I can't return to Thailand anyway so I will attend the festival to take in the party atmosphere."

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