Water-Splashing Festival, called the “Water Festival” by Westerners, is the New Year in the Dai calendar, and it is the most ceremonious traditional festival of the Dai minority. The majority of the Dai People live in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture in southernmost Yunnan Province, and the Water-Splashing Festival has become a festival with the largest influence and maximum participating population among lots of minority festivals in Yunnan Province. In 1961, Premier Zhou Enlai once celebrated the Water-Splashing Festival in Xishuangbanna together with the Dai People.
The Water-Splashing Festival was once a religious ceremony in Indian Brahmanism and then absorbed by Buddhism and passed to the Dai region in Yunnan Province via Burma. It has enjoyed a history of 700 years up to now.
About the origin of the festival, a legend also goes that – once upon a time, there was a demon that did whatever he wanted to do great harm to the human world. He even forced seven women to marry him. One day, the most daring and the youngest woman of the seven strapped the devil’s neck with his own long hair, which was said to be the devil’s only deadly weakness. But once the head fell to the ground, the ground would be burnt and the fire would be spread quickly. In order to put down the fire, the seven women hold the devil’s head in turn until it rotted away. In memory of the seven beautiful girls, the Dai people set the day when the demon’s head rotted away as the Water-Splashing Festival.
The Water-Splashing Festival usually takes place in mid-April of the solar calendar, and lasts for three to seven days.
The first day of the festival is the New Year’s Eve. On this day, the Dai people will clear their houses, make family dinner on New Year’s Eve and prepare all kinds of activities for the New Year.
The second day is a day for break. It is a day belongs neither to the old year nor to the New Year. It is simply a day for break and people usually stay home or go hunting in the mountains.
When the third day comes, everyone is dressed up in the morning. They carry clean water on their shoulders, go to the temples, and pour the holy water over the shoulders and chest of the Buddhas first to pray for the good luck, big fortune and even more children in the New Year. Then, water-splashing at one another really begins, and people burst out the hurrah “Shui! Shui! Shui!” (shui means water in Chinese).
Talking about the water-splashing, there are two ways: “civilized way” and “violent way”. For the “civilized way”, the Dai people dip flower braches in water, and sprinkle the water on one another for blessing. Being violent, people use washbasins and buckets to splash water on others. And the more water you are splashed, the happier and luckier you will be in the New Year. Great Fun!
Besides the water-splashing, there are also many other customs during the festival, including letting off fireworks, dragon boat racing, peacock dancing and cockfighting, etc. At night, numerous Kongming lanterns fly up into the sky or float on the river, with people’s best wishes. The Water-Splashing Festival is also a romantic time for the unmarried young people to find their Mr. and Mrs. Right. They will throw bags specially-made by colorful clothes (which is regarded as a token of love) to pay court to each other.