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Festivals and Ceremonies

This page explains the meaning and background of Buddhist and Thai festivals. A list of events at Wat Buddhapiyawararam can be found on the events page.

  • Makha-Pūjā (Order Day) - full moon of the month of February.

  • Songkran (Water Festival) - full moon of the month of April

  • Visākha-Pūjā (Buddha Day) - full moon of the month of May

  • Asalha-Pūjā (Day of Dhamma) - full moon of the month July

  • Khaophansa (entry into the rainy season) - day after the full moon of the month of July.

  • National Mother's Day on 12 August

  • Ookpansa (Exit from the rainy season/ Pavarana) -full moon of the month October

  • Kathina Ceremony

  • National Father's Day on 05 December

Makha-Pūjā (Order Day) - full moon of the month of February

Makha Bucha (Thai: วันมาฆบูชา) commemorates a gathering of the order that occurred spontaneously while the Buddha was staying in a bamboo grove near Rajagriha. The festival always falls on the full moon day of the third lunar month. Hence the name. It is composed of Makha (Pali: name of the third lunar month) and Pūjā (Pali: to worship).
1,250 fully enlightened disciples of the Buddha visited the Buddha on the same day, without prior consultation, to report on their wanderings. For this reason, this day is often referred to as "Sangha Day" (day of the religious community).
This gathering had the following four important characteristics: All the disciples present were fully enlightened beings, so-called arahants. All had been personally ordained by the Buddha. The 1,250 arahants arrived at the Buddha's house at the same time by chance and without prior arrangement. The instructions given by the Buddha are also known as the "Ovada-Patimokkha".
Although some sections of the discourse are mainly addressed to ordained monks and nuns, lay people can also take advice from it on how to live in accordance with the Buddha's teachings.

Patience and endurance are the highest renunciation
Liberation (Nibbana) is the highest goal: this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
One who hurts others is not an ascetic;
nor is a contemplative one who harasses and mistreats others.
The renunciation of all that is bad,
the cultivation of good,
the purification of one's own mind:
This is the teaching of the Buddhas.*
Not denigrating, not hurting,
Restraint in accordance with the discipline of the order,
moderation in eating,
Living in seclusion,
Commitment to high school of the mind,
This is the teaching of the Buddhas.

* Often only this paragraph is quoted, which is also referred to as the core or heart of the Buddha's teaching, to which all the teaching discourses and instructions can be summarised.

Songkran (Water Festival) - full moon of the month of April

Songkran (in Thai: วันสงกรานต์) is the traditional New Year celebration according to the lunar calendar in Thailand. The word "Songkran" comes from Sanskrit and refers to the transition of the sun from one sign of the zodiac to the next. However, Maha Songkran, as the full name is in Thai, specifically refers to the sun's entry into the sign of Aries and it was originally celebrated at the spring equinox. It is now dated every year from 13 to 15 April (sometimes 16 April).
On the eve of Songkran Day, i.e. on 12 April, everyone cleans their houses and burns all their rubbish. This spring cleaning stems from the belief that all the dirt and rubbish from the old year would only bring the owner bad luck in the new year.
Early on the first Songkran day (13 April), young and old go to the temple in their new clothes and donate rice, fruits and other food to the religious community there. In the afternoon, the bathing ceremony begins and the Buddha figures there as well as the abbot of the temple are "bathed" by being doused with water. In many cities, such as Chiang Mai, the Buddha statues are then driven through the city in a procession to give other believers the opportunity to also douse the statues with water. This opens the "water festival", where everyone gives everyone this kind of ablution.
Young people visit their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles or other respected persons on this or one of the following days and pour perfumed water (usually also spiked with jasmine flowers) on their palms, present them with a towel or other bathing requisites and receive the blessing of the elders in return. In the past, the younger ones helped the elders to take a proper bath and change their old clothes for new ones brought as gifts. Another service performed on Songkran is Bangsakun, a religious commemoration of the deceased.
Generally speaking, Songkran is a time of cleansing and renewal. Many Thais give their homes a general cleaning on this occasion.

Visākha-Pūjā (Buddha Day) - full moon of the month of May

Vesakh (Thai: วันวิสาขบูชา) is the best-known Buddhist holiday. Vesakh is celebrated in the form of a tribute ("puja") according to the lunar calendar on the full moon day of the fourth month (according to the solar calendar in May or sometimes in the first days of June, as in 2004 and 2007).
The Vesakh festival commemorates the birth, enlightenment and complete extinction (parinirvana) of the Buddha (on the occasion of his physical death).
The festival originated in the Theravada Buddhist tradition (Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Sri Lanka) and is still celebrated as the biggest festival of the year, especially in these countries.
Today, however, Vesakh is also celebrated by Buddhists all over the world as the most important common holiday. It serves as a conscious search for the commonalities and common roots of the different Buddhist traditions all over the world. The International Buddhist Flag, a symbol of worldwide Buddhist unity, is often raised on this holiday. Vesakh was also recognised by the UN General Assembly in 1999 in appreciation of the Buddhist contribution to world culture.

Asalha-Pūjā (Day of Dhamma) - full moon of the month July

Asalha Puja is also an important Buddhist festival. It is celebrated on the full moon in the eighth month of the lunar calendar (usually July).
The festival commemorates the Buddha's first discourse to his first five disciples in the deer park of Sarnath near Varanasi after he became enlightened. This teaching is called the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta - "Turning the Wheel of Teaching", because it was the beginning of the spread of the Buddha's teaching (Pali: Dhamma).
One of the five disciples, Kondanna, realised the first stage of enlightenment during this discourse and thus entered the "stream of Dhamma". He and the other four ascetics subsequently became the first monks. This is also how the Sangha - the community of the ordained - came into being and the so-called "Triple Jewel": Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha.
The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta covers the basic pillars of Buddhist teaching. It explains the Four Noble Truths:

  1. The Noble Truth of Suffering (Dukkha Sacca): All life is suffering.

  2. The Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering (Samudaya Sacca): All suffering is caused by desires.

  3. The Noble Truth of the Cancellation of Suffering (Nirodha Sacca): The destruction of desires means the end of suffering.

  4. The Noble Truth of the Path Leading to the End of Suffering (Magga Sacca): It is the Noble Eightfold Path, or the "Middle Path", that must be followed and leads to the cessation of suffering.

And this Noble Eightfold Path is composed of:

  1. Samma ditthi: right knowledge

  2. Samma sankappa: right attitude

  3. Samma vaca: right speech

  4. Samma kammanta: right action

  5. Samma ajiva: right livelihood

  6. Samma vayama: right effort

  7. Samma sati: right mindfulness

  8. Samma samadhi: right collection.

Khaophansa (entry into the rainy season) - day after the full moon of the month of July.

Khao Phansa (in Thai: เข้าพรรษา, literally the beginning of the rainy season) is the first day of the three-month "Phansa" or rainy season retreat (Pāli: vasso, roughly: "rain"), during which the monks stay in their temples. It begins on the day after the July full moon and ends on the October full moon.
This period is also called Buddhist Lent, but this is not quite correct, as there is no specific fasting. Generally, this is the time during which young men enter the monastery for a limited period of time. Accordingly, ordination ceremonies take place everywhere at the beginning of the fasting month. Often, the faithful also donate candles to the temples, which can sometimes reach a size of two metres. These candles then burn throughout the rainy season.
Even before the times of the Buddha, it had become customary for holy men (sadhus and sannyasins) to refrain from wandering for three months. At this time, the young seed sprouts in the fields. In order not to trample the shoots, the Buddha stipulated that during the rainy season, except in exceptional cases, the monks should spend the night in one and the same temple.
During the following three months the ordained should not wander, that is - as it is expressed in a commentary - he must greet the rising sun every morning in the residence he has chosen for the rainy season. During this time they are to perform their normal duties, unless they could not return to their temple for the night's rest. There are, however, some exceptions to this rule, the "seven-day affairs" and "valid preventions". In the Rules of the Order, there is a long list of the lawful "seven-day affairs" as well as the "valid preventions".

National Mother's Day on 12 August

On 12 August, Queen Sirikit's birthday is celebrated all over Thailand. In her honour, the government building and Ratchdamnoen Street in Bangkok are decorated with flower garlands and fairy lights.
After an offering ceremony in the morning, a large music and cultural festival takes place on the Sanam Luang esplanade. In addition, various festive events are scheduled in the different regions of the country. The people also celebrate this day as Mother's Day and commemorate on this bank holidays the charitable services that their Queen performs for her people every year as the "Mother of all Thais". Celebrations with entertainment programmes take place in the numerous parks and public squares of the capital Bangkok. The proceeds from these events go to charitable projects of the Queen.
Mother's Day was established in 1950 by the Ministry of Thai Women's Culture. The initiative met with broad approval among the population. Since then, Mother's Day has been introduced with Buddhist ceremonies and celebrated with various public tributes. Thus, numerous women who have made special contributions to the welfare of the country and the people are honoured with an award by a member of the royal family.
As Mother of the Nation, Queen Sirikit is particularly committed to the preservation of culture and traditional arts and crafts. In 1976, she established the Support Foundation. Due to this royal initiative, many new jobs could be created in the northern provinces. The Queen has also rendered outstanding services to environmental protection. For example, she established the Queen Sirikit Study Centre of Wild Plants. In 1986, the World Wide Fund for Nature honoured her for her commitment as a leading conservationist.

Ookpansa (Exit from the rainy season/ Pavarana) -full moon of the month October

The end of the rain retreat is the full moon of the month of October, it is also called "Pavarana Day". In Thailand, this day is celebrated as Wan Ook Phansa (Thai: วันออกพรรษา). In the north-eastern region of Thailand, the so-called Isaan, boat processions are held on this occasion - for example on the Mekong near Nakhon Phanom

Kathina Ceremony

The Kathin festival (Thai: กฐิน) is traditionally held after the end of the three-month rainy season retreat (Pali: vassa, Thai: phansa), which lasts from the full moon in July to the full moon in October.

Historical background:
About four or five years after his enlightenment, the Buddha stayed in the Jetavana grove near the town of Savatthi, the capital of the kingdom of Kosala which was ruled by King Pasenadi.
A group of 30 monks, after completing the three-month rainy season retreat, came from the east from the town of Saket to visit the Buddha and pay their respects. The Buddha greeted the group of monks, asked them about their retreat time and practice as well as their journey, noting their wet and worn robes. At the same time, a female lay devotee, Visakha Maha Upasika was also visiting and listening to the Buddha while he expounded the teaching. Seeing the monks in tattered and worn robes, she requested permission from the Buddha to offer the monks new robes and the Buddha agreed to her request. Since then, the monks are allowed not only to search for scraps of cloth in certain places, but also to accept robes offered by donors during the Kathin period. This period falls in the month following the end of the rainy season and thus lasts from the full moon in October to the full moon in November.

Contemporary significance:
Nowadays, the Kathin ceremony is one of the most important occasions to collect merit. Buddhists celebrate the robe offering ceremony with deep respect and devotion to the monks who have spent the past three months in the monastery holding the rainy season retreat (Pali: vassa, Thai: phansa).


(Source: Ven. Chuen Phangcham 2008: Kathina Ceremony and its meaning. In: The Island, 15.10.2008 Online at:,7254,0,0,1,0).

National Father's Day on 05 December

In Thailand, Father's Day is celebrated on 5 December, the birthday of His Majesty King Bhumibol, the longest-reigning monarch in the world.
Large festive events are held in his honour in Bangkok and the individual regions of the country. The 5th of December is an important bank holidays, which is also celebrated nationwide as Father's Day, as His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej is also considered the father of the nation.
The general veneration for the monarch reaches its peak on this day. At the Sanam Luang Esplanade, in the historic centre of Bangkok, numerous festivities and concerts are scheduled on 5 December. To mark the holiday, offerings are given to the monks and candles are lit to honour His Majesty King Bhumipol on his birthday. In the evening, thousands of people gather to admire the spectacular fireworks that light up Bangkok's sky in honour of the popular king.

Mother's Day
Father's Day
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