October 1, 2015
Wan Ok Phansa Festival The end of Buddhist Lent – when the people of this magical Kingdom both pray and play
When: 16th October 2016
Where: Across the Kingdom of Thailand
This day heralds the Thai Buddhist festival of Wan Ok Phansa (Thai: วันออกพรรษา; literally “the Final Day of the Vassa“) which marks the end of ‘Buddhist Lent’ known as Wan Khao Phansa (see below). The day falls annually on the full moon of the eleventh lunar month and is the Kingdoms most important Buddhist event.
This eagerly awaited time is full of joyful celebration and merit-making, for many families it is also the day they welcome back a son into the home and for them to celebrate his successful completion of a term in the temple.
The sequence of events for the religious day goes something on the lines as follows:
Early in the morning, both male and female of all ages begin to arrive at the temple wearing their best clothes, with many wearing only white. They carry food pre-prepared at home, usually in highly decorative gold or silver bowls, which they later offer to the monks.
After the monks have eaten, the people are blessed, after which many return to their homes. The more devoted may choose to remain at the temple and later in the morning, take a vow with the monks to keep either five or eight precepts. After taking this vow, they split their time between praying, listening to the monks preaching’s and conducting their own meditation. In the evening, the monks lead a candle lit procession, making three complete circuits of the main temple building. This event signifies the end of the temple celebrations but not the festivities that are celebrated through-out the Kingdom over this same period.
The eleventh Lunar month is possibly Thailand’s most festive of time, through-out the Kingdom it is a time of celebration, joy and for giving thanks. This in the main due to the Buddhist Lent, but it is also it is the end of the rainy season and normally the month where farmers reap their biggest harvests.
Wan Khao Phansa
Wan Khao Phansa – follows Asanha Bucha Day, on the first day after the full moon of the eighth lunar month (July), and marks the beginning of the three-month ‘Buddhist Lent’ all monks and novices must remain in their temples. They will not venture out or spend the night in any other place except in cases of extreme emergency and, even then, their time away must not exceed seven consecutive nights. This is a time for serious contemplation and meditation for both monks and laymen alike. Traditionally, it is also important for laymen to ordain their sons, (those over the age of 20), into the monk-hood on this day to get maximum benefit from the Buddhist teachings.
‘Buddhist Lent’ can be traced back to the beginning of the Buddhist era. It is said the Lord Buddha saw monks wandering outside the temple compound and he believed that in doing so, they may unknowingly damage growing crops or accidentally kill insects, so he proclaimed that it would be better for the monks to observe his teachings and practice meditation inside the monasteries. It is also the belief that in this same period the Buddha ascended to Heaven to preach to his mother.
Celebrations across Thailand
Celebrations at this time of the year are conducted through-out Thailand, with a vast array of different, vibrant festivals that sit hand in hand, with the religious rites, to mark the occasion of the end of the Buddhist Lent; each has its own uniqueness and is known by many names. In the south of Thailand the people celebrate this most auspicious occasion with their very own festival of Chak Phra (Phum Pha Pa), while also in the south the people of Phatthalung Province, go mad with drums in the Phon Lak Phra Festival.
The north has its spiritual Tak Bat Devo Festival, featuring hundreds of Buddhist monks. The province of Sakon Nakhon features the amazing Wax Castle possession, while in the north east province of Nakhon Phanom you will find the dazzling Fire Boat Possession. Central Thailand offers you the chance to be part of the glourous Lotus Flower Festival and in the Mae Hong Son Province, of North West Thailand, you can be part of the uniquely Tai-Yai peoples event, that of the Chong Para Festival. Not forgetting throughout the Kingdom you can witness a whole host of Longboat races and Festivals
Whether you are lucky enough to share this special day with the people of Thailand, one cannot be in this wonderful country at this time, without noticing the warmth and fun that seems to emanate from it’s people, in what I would term ‘Thailand’s Festive Month’
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