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Khao Phansa, The Candle Festival

It is time to visit Thailand and take part in Khao Phansa, the Buddhist monsoon festival also called the Candle Festival. This marks the beginning of the three-month retreat when Buddhist monks shelter from the rainy season and confine themselves to their monastery and many young men from traditional Buddhist families enter the monkhood for three months. They subsequently return back to the domestic world.

Khao Phansa, The Candle Festival

This festival starts off with Asalha Puja that falls on the full moon of the eighth lunar month, the day that is observed as Guru Purnima in India. Falling on the 15th of July in 2011, on Guru Purnima all devotees worship Vyasa of the Hindu epic Mahabaratha.Khao Phansa

Many disciples pay salutations to their guru or teacher, the day being very significant for disciples to be initiated by their Guru. Students receive the blessings of their teachers and the wise and learned are honoured.

Buddhists believe that this was the day that Lord Buddha preached his sermon to his followers when he attained enlightenment in Bodh Gaya. Most Buddhists in Thailand celebrate this day with merry-making, listening to Buddhist sermons and joining the candle lit procession at night.

Khao Phansa falls on the first day after the full moon of the eighth lunar month, July 16th in 2011 marking the beginning of the three-month Buddhist ‘lent’ period lasting until October.

Days before the festival at Tung Si Muang, a public field is prepared for the celebrations and local artisans busy themselves making bees’ wax candles and sculptures.

This nationwide candle festival, celebrated with pomp and show in Thailand at places like Tung Si Muang, Ubon Ratchathani and the Phra Phutthabat, gives tourists a chance to see amazing wax sculptors taken on the streets in procession. The display of religious fervor with the special displays provides tourists with an idea of the rich local traditions and culture.

The wax items are subsequently donated to the temple according to a traditional belief that it brings good luck to the donor. Sometimes bathing robes are also donated to monks.

During the three-month retreat, Buddhist monks remain confined within the monastery or temple, abstaining from spending the night in any other place except in emergencies. Even in emergencies the time should not exceed seven consecutive nights.

Time is devoted to serious contemplation and meditation with both monks and laymen spending most of their time studying Buddha’s teaching and meditating. Many ordain their young sons to monkhood to gain the maximum from Buddhist teachings.

The origin of this Thai festival goes back to the Buddhist legend that most of Buddha’s followers wandered during the rainy season accidentally trampling the rice fields causing damage to seedlings and small creatures. When Lord Buddha heard the worries of the common people, he forbade monks to leave their monasteries during the three-month period.

Many devout Buddhists follow the five major Buddhist precepts- not to kill animals; not to steal; not to engage in corrupt acts; not to commit adultery; not to lie; and to avoid drinking alcohol.

If you have missed Khao Phansa this year, do visit Thailand on the Phansa day that falls on the full moon of the eleventh lunar month in October. Join in the festivities and merry-making with Thai families as they welcome back their sons with celebrations for the successful completion of a term in a temple.

by +Owen Jones


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