Asalha Puja - Celebrating the Teachings of the Enlightened
Thailand, also known as the Kingdom of Thailand, is a fun loving and cultured country in South-East Asia. Known for its relaxing, quiet and windy beaches, the country lights up during its festivals. There is more to Thailand than just the beaches - the Thai massage is the best way to relieve your stress and sore body after a heavy day of shopping and then there is the delicious Thai food that is adored around the world for its fresh and varied flavour. To add to this fun, this Buddhist nation celebrates its festivals like grand ceremonies. The festival period attracts tourists from all over the world, and Asahna Bucha is one of its oldest famous festivals.
Asahna Bucha, also known as Asalha Puja, is the day that marks when over 2500 years ago Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon at Benares in India. It is a public holiday in Thailand, and the exact date for this festival is decided by the waxing moon and the lunar months which typically comes up in July according to the Thai lunar calendar. It is an auspicious day and brings out all the people to their nearest temples to celebrate the occasion.
Asalha Puja Day 2019
16th July 2019 - Tuesday
History of Asalha Puja
Asahna Bucha day is the celebration of the 'Four Noble Truths'- Dukkha, Tanha, Nibbana, and the eightfold path preached by Buddha after his enlightenment. This first sermon called 'Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in motion' which was given at Deer Park in Sarnath city, near the confluence of Ganges and Gomti river in Uttar Pradesh, India is the Thai version of Asalha Puja. It is also known as Dhamma Day.
This day marks the beginning of the Vassa, the Buddhist lent period that lasts for three months and generally takes place on the first full moon of the 8th lunar month as Buddha was born during a full moon. The significance of this day is shown when you notice that most temples are covered with carvings of deers and wheel as this sermon was held at deer park and the dharma of buddha is symbolised as a wheel.
Buddha said 'I teach one thing and one thing only: suffering and the end of suffering'.
The presentation of this thought in the first sermon is the core of Buddha teachings. It leads to the various philosophies people have learnt from Buddha.
How is Asalha Puja Celebrated?
Like most of the festivals in Thailand, the people start the Asalha Puja by visiting their local 'Wat' (temple) mainly for merit-making ceremonies. The size and number of people attending this ceremony depend upon the size of the temple. It is a simple celebration known as 'wian tian' starting with the chantings of the monks and preaching the first sermon while the followers kneel and bow as instructed. This is also a good time for many young thai men to enter monkhood.
As the process of the Asahna Bucha continues, during the chanting, the other monks light up the entire temple grounds with large wax candles. The entire sound of chanting experience transports you to a different era and you embrace the teachings of Buddhism. Continuing the ceremony, the monks chant and lead the followers with lit candles, lotus flowers and incense sticks in hand (which the followers present at offerings later) and walk around the pagoda three times in clockwise direction. The final walk of the chanting monks is around a large seated Buddha while the followers remain seated or give offerings to the temple. The different kind of offerings can be lenten candles, phansa candles which monks use during their retreat. Asahna Bucha day is the one day the people of Thailand make sure they visit the temple.
Asalha Puja is celebrated in countries with Theravada Buddhist population such as Cambodia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand celebrates it on a large scale. Different cities in Thailand make more additions to celebrate this day. For example, in Ubon the candlelit parade is followed by a contest for the best designed candles and a beauty contest. In Saraburi, the monks walk through the town with their alms bowls. There are many other festivals celebrated by Thai people but this is one of the most important festivals. The day after the Asahna Bucha is followed by 'Wan Khao Phansa', another significant day which marks the start of three month Phansa period.
When is Asalha Puja Held?
Observed by the government sector only, Asahna Bucha Day is a public holiday. An annual festival, it is celebrated in the wet season in July in on the first full moon accordance with the Thai Lunar calendar while it varies in the Gregorian Calendar. This event is one of the most important festivals of Thailand and is celebrated on a full moon night because Buddha himself was born during a full moon.
Wan Khao Phansa
Also known as the Buddhist lent day, it is the day after the Asalha Puja. It takes place during the wet season and is the start of an auspicious three-month annual retreat, observed by Buddhist practitioners. Also known as "Lent Commencement Day" it is the period of spiritual renewal where all the monks retreat to the temple and don't leave it for the next three months. They devote this time to study and meditate within the temple grounds. It is also a public holiday, but the banks are not closed. It is also 'no alcohol day' in Thailand. People also make an effort and abstain from eating meat or tobacco at least for the day if not for three months.
It's time to explore Thailand beyond its beaches, spas and shopping areas. In a time where more and more millennials are backpacking across the globe and learning about the various cultures, Thailand is a must visit. Attracting the majority of the tourists during this festival season, go and experience Asalha Puja celebration first hand.