Goddesses and peanut brittle: This year, celebrate Songkran in supernatural style

Goddesses and peanut brittle: This year, celebrate Songkran in supernatural style

The Thai New Year isn't just an excuse to have a giant water fight. Here's a look at its gory, cosmic roots

Thai peanut brittleThua Tat fits the bill quite nicely if one wants to dine like a goddess this Songkran.Serve peanut-sesame brittle as a Songkran treat this year? Seems all shades of crazy.

But before anyone cries blasphemy, consider the realm of the supernatural. Nuts and seeds are precisely the dietary requirement of this year’s Songkran goddess.

Widely available all year round and inexpensive, Thai-style peanut brittle (Thua Tat) is generally taken for granted. With a name that informs rather than entices and a straightforward, non-cutesy appearance, this humble snack is not likely to arouse the kind of gastronomic concupiscence which the likes of blueberry cheesecake or panna cotta would among Bangkokians.

But who’s to regard peanut-sesame brittle as lowly when Kirini, our 2011 Songkran goddess, declares nuts and seeds good enough for her?

Navigating Songkran's great Cosmic Ocean

While Songkran activities –- from the solemn to the crazy -– are being planned in the human realm, things are a bit different in another dimension. Somewhere in the vast Cosmic Ocean, seven goddesses are poised to carry out the sacred duty that has become the origin of Thai New Year.

At least that’s what the legend of Songkran would have us believe.

Commissioned by King Rama III, the origin of the festival, which had previously existed only as an  oral tradition, was inscribed on stone tablets that are now held at Wat Pho. This version has since become the most authoritative and widely circulated.

According to the legend, King Kabila Phrom lost a bet resulting in him having to cut off his own head. The story would have ended there had it not been due to the fact that the king’s four-faced head was a major environmental hazard.

Dropped to the ground, it would transform earth into a furnace; left hanging in the air, it would result in no rainfall; thrown into the ocean, evaporation of apocalyptic magnitude would occur.

The only solution was –- naturally -– to have the king’s severed head placed on a tray to be carried by his seven daughters who would take turns circumambulating Mount Meru with it seven times before installing what was left of their father in a cave in Mount Kailash.

When the Sun moves into Aries, ushering in the Great Songkran just after the 13th hour of Thursday, April 14, 2011, according to the lunisolar calendar, Kirini, the Thursday goddess, will be leading the annual procession.

Sitting atop a pachyderm, armed with an elephant goad in one hand and a gun in the other, she will be carrying out her duty in style: accessorized with arm cuffs, bejeweled with emeralds, and sporting the heavenly flower of magnolia behind her ear. 

The legend also makes it clear: Kirini takes delight in nuts and sesame seeds.

The old-fashioned snack, Thua Tat, fits the bill quite nicely for anyone who wants to dine like a goddess this Songkran. Other nut- or seed-based foods would also do, of course. This is merely one suggestion.  

Thua Tat is very similar to the Indian peanut brittle, Chikki, a reminder that Thai New Year has its roots in the South Asian tradition of Makar Sankranti.

Khao Chae will always reign as the top Songkran fare, but perhaps Thua Tat -- a food item not necessarily associated with the festival -– may be included as part of this year’s celebration not for religious or superstitious reasons, but just for fun.

Information on the legend of the origin of Songkran is based on documents from the Office of Literature and History (Fine Arts Department) and the Department of Cultural Promotion (Ministry of Culture).

After having spent years studying ancient inscriptions, Leela recently came to realize that she would rather write about food than decipher old chicken scratch.
Read more about Leela Punyaratabandhu