Khao Phansa - Festival of 'Buddhist Lent' in Thailand

There comes not one but multiple occasions for tourists to be a part of Thailand's fascinating festivals. The festival of Khao Phansa is one such occasion. Khao Phansa or ‘Vassa’ is a day which marks the beginning of the 3-month monastic retreat by the monks during the rainy season. It is observed on the day after the first full moon in the eighth month according to the Thai lunar calendar. This day is a national holiday in Thailand.

Dates for Khao Phansa Day

It begins in the eighth lunar month, after the full moon day - usually in the month of June or July and ends sometime in September or October.

  YearStart DateEnd Date
 2019 17th July, Wednesday 13th October, Sunday
 2020 6th July, Monday 1st October, Thursday

What is Khao Phansa?

Khao Phansa

In Thailand, Khao Phansa or 'Vassa' takes place in the eighth lunar month, the day after the full moon. The festival marks the start of the rainy season. This is the time when monks retreat to their temples and devote three months in meditation and study. This retreat to the temples is based on a decree of Lord Buddha. 

On this auspicious day, many Thais fast and avoid alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and meat, But Khao Phansa is not just about the self-denial. It is also a vibrant, colourful festival when travellers would come across beautiful and elaborately carved candles, which turn out to be the centre of the celebrations.

In the traditional times, candles were donated to the monks, who used it to continue studying after the sunset. In the present time, the candles take the form of gigantic wax figures which are boasted during the local parade. The festival is all about art and fun, accompanied by performances, dance shows and a display of unique art pieces.

How did Khao Phansa Originate?

Khao Phansa

The origin of Khao Phansa leads to India, as a period of three months during the rainy season when the ancient monastic order stopped with their wandering. As adviced by The Buddha, his disciples observed the retreat of rain for two significant reasons. First, travelling by foot during the monsoon season in India was not a plain sailing task. Roads covered with mud puddles and overflowing rivers obstructed travellers from travelling from one destination to the other. Second, this was a time when grave harm could be caused to animals as monks could accidentally step and injure creatures which, during the times of rain, come upon the surface. The Buddha also allowed a leave of seven days during this time when the disciples could visit a sick relative or attend a Dhamma teaching.

Sometime in the history, the term 'Buddhist Lent' got attached to vassavasa by people who noticed that Buddhists in the Southeast Asia region were fasting during the rain retreat. This then invoked parallels with the Christian Lent.

Traditions around Khao Phansa 

Monks meditating, Khao Phansa

Candle processions are seen throughout the country. Some of the most famous ones are the Korat Candle Procession Festival, Royal Candle Festival in Nakhon Ratchasima, Wax Candle Procession in Ubon Ratchathani, and International Wax Candle Festival. Every year, these events are joined by renowned artists and tourists from all across the globe who marvel at the ornately carved candle structures spectacularly showcased in the parades.

The beauty of the festival lies in the fact that each province comes up with unique activities: religious activities were performed in the prestigious Wat Phra in Nakhon Phanom while Surin Province showcased nearly 100 splendidly dressed and decorated elephants who were seen carrying monks. The Ayutthaya province is well known for its Aquatic Phansa Festival, during which wax candles and structures are sailed in beautifully decorated boats.

Khao Phansa also involves the Royals. The festival has three main classes of ceremonies. The first ceremony called the royal ceremony is conducted by Thailand's king, who performs rituals that include presenting candles for the festival, giving away garments and articles of clothing to the monastics and most importantly, paying homage to the Buddha. The second category of ceremonies follows this, called the ritual ceremonies and is performed by followers of Buddhism. Nuns and monks perform the third and final type of ceremonies in temples all over the country.

Best Regions to Experience Khao Phansa

1. Saraburi

The festivities of Khao Phansa are very vibrant in Saraburi. The Shrine at Buddha’s footprint is an auspicious spot where people gather from all over Thailand. As the monks ascend up the stairs to the footprint, they are showered with yellow and white colours. Devotees also take part in washing the feet of the monks and seek their blessings.

2. Ubon Ratchathani

Ubon Ratchathani is famous for its candle festival. Out of all the candles festivals celebrated across the country during Khao Phansa, its hosts the one which is most exquisite. Intricately carved candles made from beeswax are paraded through the town and carried to the temples.

3. Surin

Apart from the candle festival, Surin is known for the ‘merit-making’ ceremony held on the backs of elephants. Phaya Surin, a local Buddhist monument, is where this ceremony takes place. Nearly hundred senior and highly revered monks ride on the backs of elephants.

4. Suphan Buri

If you want to experience rich cultural diversity, then Suphan Buri is where you want to be. Numerous folk dances are on display as various ethnic groups compete with each other.

So if you have not witnessed any of the spectacular festivals Thailand has got to show, isn't it time you plan a trip to the land of smiles?

This post was published by Yash Saboo

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