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Thailand, also known as The Land of Smiles is fuming with political tension and violence.

Recently, a bloody clash broke out between anti-government protesters and military officers in central Bangkok, leaving at least 21 civilians and soldiers dead and over 800 injured.

However, the situation in their home country did not stop the Thai community in London from smiling, as they gathered to celebrate the traditional Thai New Year.

Last week, the Buddhapadipa Temple in Wimbledon opened its doors to nearly 4,000 visitors who came to join the Thai New Year celebration or “Songkran“.

Both Thais and Brits flocked to the UK’s first Buddhist temple to take part in this annual custom. Food offerings, traditional Thai Dances, folk music, and many other activities made the day.

Many also grabbed the opportunity to savour the world-renowned Thai cuisine, as ten food stalls provided a variety of authentic Thai dishes.

“No Separation”

According to a Thai monk who serves as Buddhapadipa Temple’s secretary assistant, Phramaha  Dhammacharo, the Songkran celebration aims to preserve the Thai culture and promote unity among Buddhist Thais in London.

At the event, an area was set up for the Songkran Beauty Pageant Contest. 25 adults and kids, both Thai and Thai - British, wore the traditional costumes and showcased their knowledge of the culture to the judges.

Despite the political unrest in Thailand, the celebration saw as many visitors as in previous years.

“There is no kind of separation inside the temple,” explained the monk. “Thai people here join Songkran for the same reason, that is to do good things for a new start, regardless their different political views.”

Since its establishment 34 years ago, the temple celebrates the Songkran annually. Originally, the celebration starts on April 13 and ends on April 15. In Thailand, this period marks the hottest time of the year.

Dating back nearly ten centuries, the celebration rituals includes sprinkling scented water on each other to cool off and send away bad luck.

“A Thai touch”

As time went by, however, a few drops turned into gallons. Every April, the whole country becomes a battlefield, where water warriors roam the streets with water guns, “shooting” all passers by.

However, that is only one aspect of the Songkran Festival. When it comes to its religious values, Thai people in London seem to attach more importance to the occasion than those in their home country.

According to the monk, this is because they are miles away from their country, and so are likely to feel homesick. He said Thais overseas “try to seek for a Thai touch, and Buddhism is the easiest way.”

Besides hosting activities for Thais in London, the Buddhapadipa Temple also serves as a spiritual sanctuary.

A number of Buddhist Thais often visit the temple to meditate, listen to Dharma and hold discussions about Buddhist teachings with monks.