Itanagar: Sangken, the festival of water, is the new year festival which is celebrated from April 13 to 15 by Buddhist communities including Khampti, Singpho, Khamyang, Tikhaks (Tangsa) and Phakyal of Arunachal Pradesh, and Tai Phake community in nearby Assam.
The main attraction of the festival is splashing of clean water, which is the symbol of peace and purity in Buddhism. The images of Lord Buddha are taken out from a river or water resource after the ceremonial bath. The procession is accompanied by drums and dance. The holy bath of Lord Buddha is an auspicious event in the festival. The celebration takes place for three consecutive days.
During the celebration, the locals make Khotek Khawmun and Tongtep (homemade sweet), which are then distributed. The exchange of gifts is also a common trait of the festival.
Sangken generally falls in the month of ‘Ra Ta’ in Singpho calendar but ‘Naun Ha’, the fifth month, in Khampti lunar calendar.
During the festival, it is not permissible for Buddhist people to do any physical work, including collecting essential commodities for day-to-day life. So, weeks before the festival, Singpho and Khamti people start their preparation by collecting vegetables and Lapfo Lap (Ko Patta leaves) from the nearby jungles, weaving traditional clothes, buying all other essential commodities from the market, cleaning houses, etc.
Three days before the beginning of Sangken, a temporary shrine called ‘Kyongfra or Fra chong’ is constructed for keeping the idols of Buddha during Sangken. In this Kyongfra during Sangken, clean water is sprinkled through a specially designed water fountain called the ‘Kongpan or Lungkong’. Clean and scented water poured through the fountain is sprinkled over the idols of Buddha kept inside the Kyongfra. This water, which has washed the idols, is collected as holy water by the devotees.
Sangken is celebrated for three consecutive days. On the first day and at an auspicious time, the images of Lord Buddha are taken out of the shrine, given a ceremonial bath and placed in the ‘Kyongfra’ with the rhythm of drums and cymbals. People pray, offer sweets and food as offerings in the temple and then distribute sweets and goodwill among all by pouring water over each other. Water is also poured over all the holy objects, including the Boddhi tree, the Lik Sumri/ Sailiks ropes of the holy book, Sangfra bhuk / Chausangphau-upuk and the Sammukathing.
Water is also poured on Bhikkhus (monks) to invoke their blessings for good luck, good health, peace and harmony throughout the year.
On the final day of the Sangken festival at the appointed time, the images are taken back to their original places and this marks the end of the old year. The Sangken festival marks a farewell to the old year and a warm welcome to the New Year. The New Year is welcomed with community prayers and feast during the ‘Sangken Poi’ celebrated after the end of the festival. This day is celebrated with great devotion and enthusiasm by all and marked by people going to the monastery to wash and clean up the shrine, idols and sprinkle holy water in the premises and a community feast which follows. This festival is dedicated to the worship of Lord Buddha so that he can bless mankind with prosperity.
Again after a week,a final retreat will be performed which is termed as Nunsi Dabong or Kapsithi Lu Poi. On this day, people will make a ‘muddy soil temple’ (Kapsithi) and decorated with beautiful colouring papers and other flowers. Late in the evening all the villagers will come together and worship in the temple along with Buddhist monks and a community feast is also organised.
Sangken is celebrated as Songkran in other Southeast Asian countries. Songkran is a new year in countries like Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.