Thailand Buddhist festivals along the year

Burning candles in Buddhist temple
Burning candles in Buddhist temple. Candles are an essential element in Buddhist Festival celebrations.

Thailand is a highly religious country and you can see spirit houses and temples almost everywhere in the country. More than 95% of the Thai population follows the national religion, Theravada Buddhism, although there is complete religious freedom, which is also guaranteed by the Constitution.

Buddhism has had a great influence on Thailand’s culture and history and to date, the everyday life of citizens of Thailand and even the tourists are affected by it. On your visit to the country, you would see sacred temples along the Chao Phraya River and also the spirit houses, the aim of which is to protect the houses and buildings.

You will see people performing rituals in the temples and praying for health and happy life. You may also spot someone feeding the dogs for merit-making, which is an important part of the Thai religion.

Thailand Buddhist Festivals

If you are planning to visit Bangkok, the best time for the tour could be during a Buddhist festival. These festivals are the most joyful occasions and many of them are meant for celebrating different events in Buddha’s life. There are over a dozen Buddhists events that are celebrated throughout the year. But, there are three major events that celebrate Buddha’s birth, death, teachings, and enlightenment.

Selling of alcohol is prohibited on these sacred days and no restaurant and bar are allowed to sell alcohol. State and government office operations are also closed.

Visakha Bucha Day

Visakha Bucha Day is celebrated on the full moon ( พระจันทร์เต็มดวง) day of the sixth lunar month which usually falls in May or June.  On this day Buddhists gather on the temples to raise flags and sing hymns to praise Buddha and his teachings. There is also a tradition of hoisting flags on the houses.

Visakha Bucha Day ( วันวิสาขบูชา) is the most important Buddhist festival of the year. It represents birth ( ประสูติ), enlightenment ( ตรัสรู้), and passing away ( ปรินิพพาน) of Gautama Buddha. It is believed that these three events occurred on the same day in different years. This day is accepted as the Buddha’s birthday by all the Buddhists in the world.

The birth of the Buddha
The birth of the Buddha: Queen Maya holds on to the branch of a tree while giving birth to the Buddha, who is received by god Indra as other gods look on. See page for author [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

People go to the temples and listen to sermons about Buddha’s life and his teachings. It’s a very colorful festival and devotees burn candles and incense and bring flowers to the temple to honor Buddha. There is also a tradition where people carry flowers, candles, and three incense sticks and walk around the temple 3 times in a procession to celebrate each of the 3 important events.

Makha Bucha Day

Makha Bucha Day ( วันมาฆบูชา) is considered to be the second most important Buddhist festival. It is celebrated on the full moon day of the 3rd lunar month which typically falls in February or March.

Makha is the name of the 3rd lunar month and it’s also the name of the star whereas Bucha means to honor. This day represents the gathering of 1250 disciples of Buddha at the Veluvana Temple. They listened to Buddha’s sermon and were ordained by the Buddha himself. This happened nine months after his Enlightenment.

Makha Bucha
Painting of the spontaneous gathering of 1250 Arahants. myself [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The whole day, Buddhist devotees visit temples and take part in the religious ceremonies. They also light candles, make offerings, and gain merit. They make merit ( ทำบุญ) by listening to sermons and giving money to the poor. They walk around the Ubosot carrying flowers, candles, and incense sticks.

Asahna Bucha Day and Khao Phansa Day

Asahna Bucha Day ( วันอาสาฬหบูชา) is celebrated on the first full moon of the 8th lunar month which typically falls in July. Asahna Bucha, also known as the Dharma Day ( วันธรรมะ) is being celebrated for centuries. This day represents the first sermon by Buddha after his enlightenment. In this sermon, Buddha preached the four noble truths: Dukkha (suffering), Tanha (craving), Nibbana (Nirvana, liberation) and the eight-fold path (Buddha’s practical method for attaining Nibbana. In short, it requires to develop wisdom, morality, and meditation)

This event was the first time the Triple Gems were completed. The Triple Gems portrays Buddhism’s key aspects. They are Buddha himself, Dharma (the doctrines of Buddha) and Sangha (the monks’ fraternity). This was the start of Buddhism as a religion.

Asahna Bucha Day is celebrated by donating offerings, leaving gifts for the monks and listening to Sermons in the temples.

Buddhist Lent
The candlelit circumambulation of the chedi of Wat Phra That Han Thao on the first day of Vassa (Buddhist Lent). Thanongsuk harakunno [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Khao Phansa Day ( วันเข้าพรรษา) begins Buddhist Lent ( เข้าพรรษา), a period of 3 months in every year for Buddhist monks. It’s the day after Asahna Bucha Day and marks the beginning of the rainy season. Buddha pointed out that during the three months of the raining season, monks should stop traveling thus avoiding the dangers of doing in this period and avoid possibly killing new plants or insects. Instead, the monks would remain stuck in their one temple and use this moment to improve themselves, be mindful, and be compassionate.

Buddhist Lent is often the time when believers decide to become monks to bring merit to their family and to spend time in the temple thinking about their lives and finding solace.

Khao Phansa celebrations are usually comparable to most Buddhist festivals with prayers, incense and flowing around the temple 3 times in a clockwise direction.

Khao Phansa is also known as the Candle Making Festival ( แห่เทียน) where people donate candles to the temple to be used during the rainy season. The tradition is based on the belief that donating candles will help make the monks brighter and smarter as they will be able to study more because they can not leave the temple at night. Some of the candle gifts have become highly elaborate and can be considered pieces of art on their own.