Category Archives: Buddhist Festivals

Monks Collecting Alms by Boat Festival in Lat Krabang

Merit Making by Boat

The end of the Buddhist Rains Retreat takes place on the full moon in October. For three months, the monks have to stay within their temple. They cannot disrobe or move to another temple. The original idea was to stop monks stepping on and killing plants and insects during the rainy season. This period is sometimes called Buddhist Lent in English as lay people make an effort to give up things such as meat, alcohol, or smoking.

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Alms Giving Ceremony in Bangkok

During March 2012, there will be a series of six alms giving ceremonies around Bangkok involving an estimated total of 100,000 monks. The purpose is to celebrate the 2,600th anniversary of the Lord Buddha’s Enlightenment Day. The first event took place early this morning, 10th March 2012 along Phahonyothin road near Ying Charoen Market. It was difficult to estimate the number of monks present today, but I reckon that there were at least 8,000.

Monks traditionally go on alms round near their temple. Usually they leave the temple in the early hours of dawn while it is still dark. The Buddhist faithful are waiting for them in front of their houses. On Wan Phra days, which is the Buddhist sabbath, the monks stay in the temple and the lay people go there to make merit. However, these days it is not always easy for people to make merit in this way as they need to get up early to go to work.

There are two other kinds of alms giving that I have witnessed. One is often held on special occasions such as New Year’s Day or the King’s Birthday. The lay people line the side of the road in groups and as hundreds of monks pass, they offer the food. With the mass alms giving that I attended this morning, that method isn’t practical. After chanting and a short sermon, the monks walked down the rows in front of the seated lay people until everyone was in position. Then, after a signal, everyone offered alms at the same time.

As a foreign tourist you are welcome to watch this event. You can even join in if you like. Set up along the road there are many tables where vendors are selling bags of food for offering to the monks. As there are thousands of people, you need to arrive early to get a good spot. The ceremony starts at 6:30 a.m. and so it’s best to arrive before 6 a.m. if you can. The roads will be closed so its best to go by public transport or by taxi. If you are taking part you need to wear white clothing.

The following are the locations for the alms giving events in Bangkok this month:

Sunday March 11th, 2012 – Kaset Junction – Ratchayothin Crossroad
Saturday March 17th, 2012 – Ladprao 5-Junction – Saphan Khwai
Sunday March 18th, 2012 – CentralWorld Department Store, Ratchaprasong Road
Saturday March 24th, 2012 – Yaowarat Road – Charoenkrung Road
Sunday March 25th, 2012 – Ladya Road – Wongwian Yai

I have prepared a google map of these locations

Makha Bucha Day at Wat Klang

One of the most important events in the Thai Buddhist calendar is Makha Bucha Day (sometimes spelled Magha Puja). It takes place on the full moon day of the third lunar month which is usually late February or early March. This year it was today, 7th March 2012. Like many Thai people, I was up early this morning before the sun rose to go and visit my local temple. I took my first picture at Wat Klang in Paknam shortly before 7 a.m. There was already hundreds of local people there making merit.

There were many food stalls outside the temple selling various food such as curries and Thai desserts. However, these weren’t for the lay people to buy to take home and eat. These were pre-cooked food to give to the monks in order to make merit. Strictly speaking, to make the most merit you need to prepare the food yourself, but who has time for that these days? After choosing the food that they wanted to offer, the vendor then worked out the cost.

Once they had bought a tray load of food, they then usually squatted down, held the tray up to the level of their forehead and then said a small prayer. There was also a small Buddha shrine there which people paid respect to. Next they then added the rice and bags of curries to a long line of alms bowls. The monks weren’t actually sitting there which always seems a bit strange to me. But, I guess the Thai people felt they were still making the merit.

Once the people had made merit they made their way to an open area in front of a long narrow platform. This is where the monks from the temple were sitting waiting to start the chanting. It was a good turnout this morning. Very impressive. The chanting went on for about an hour. There was also a sermon from the abbot. People also had an opportunity to make a personal offering of essential items or food to their favourite monk. Most people would then go home though others might stay the whole day and practice meditation.

In the late afternoon or evening, people will head back to their local temples for “wien tien” which is a kind of candlelight procession around the ordination hall or chedi. I usually go to Wat Asokaram in Samut Prakan which is a very famous meditation temple in Thailand. Many people stay here overnight. They wear white clothes and practise meditation. The real “wien tien” is with candles in the evening after the chanting which usually starts at about 7.30 p.m. But many people go earlier to walk around the temple three times in a clockwise direction.

Buddhism Week for Magha Puja

A Buddhism week is being held nationwide to mark Magha Puja, the first major Buddhist anniversary of the year. People have been invited to join the week, scheduled for 3 to 7 March 2012, with various religious activities, especially Dhamma practice. In Bangkok, the focal point of this event takes place at the Sanam Luang ceremonial ground and in the provinces at major temples. Magha Puja falls on the full-moon day of the third lunar month, coinciding with March 7 this year. Three other Buddhist holy days include Visakha Puja, Asalha Puja, and Khao Phansa, or the beginning of the Buddhist Lent.

On the full-moon day of the third lunar month, a total of 1,250 monks from different places gathered to pay homage to the Buddha, each on his own initiative, without prior notification. All of them were enlightened monks, and they had been individually ordained by the Buddha himself. Such a unique gathering had never occurred anywhere else. On the evening of that day, the Buddha gave them the Ovadha Patimokha discourse, laying down the principles of his teachings: to do good, to abstain from bad, and to purify the mind.

Buddhism and Thailand have a close relationship. The roots of the Thai nation are evident as far back as 2,000 years ago. In the same period, Buddhism came to the region and it has played an important part in Thai history ever since. The Thai nation became firmly established in present-day Thailand 700 years ago. Also seven centuries ago, it adopted the present form of Buddhism.

Out of the population of 63 million, more than 90 percent of Thais are Buddhists. So Buddhism has had a deep influence in Thai arts, traditions, learning, and the character of the people. The charm that has earned Thailand the reputation as the “Land of Smiles” undoubtedly comes from the influence of Buddhism over the people. Being interdependent, Buddhism and the Thai nation are bound together by mutual responsibility to contribute to the well-being of all people.

Source: Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department

Making Merit on the King’s Birthday

Today, people from all around the country are coming together to celebrate the 84th birthday of H.M. The King. Many of them are wearing pink which is an auspicious colour believed to help make the King better. The Thai monarch has been in Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok for several years now. About 1,000 well-wishers gathered at the City Hall Plaza in Samut Prakan to give alms to 99 monks in honour of His Majesty.

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The ceremony was opened by Wanida Bunprakhong, the new Governor of Samut Prakan. She first paid homage to a Buddha image and then took part in chanting. Attending the event were many local government officials who all came together to pay homage to His Majesty. A similar event was being held at the same time all around Thailand. H.M. The King is regarded as a father to all Thai people as they love him so much. This day is also celebrated as National Father’s Day.

After the chanting had finished, the Governor led the local people in giving alms to several hundred monks. Tables had been set up around the parade ground and local people had gathered behind them since early morning. They did this to make merit on behalf of H.M. The King. To make the most merit, the food should have been prepared by themselves before they arrived and not bought at a food stall. Leftovers from the night before must never be given to monks.

The local people stood behind the tables as the monks slowly made their way down the row. People were giving fresh food as well as pre-prepared packages such as pot noodles that you can see in this picture. As some of these items were too big for the alms bowls, each of the monks were assisted by temple boys who carried big sacks. The monk then emptied their bowls into these sacks. By the end of the alms giving event, the pick-up trucks from the temples were full with sacks of food. Local people also gave the monks purple orchid flowers and also envelopes containing money.

After the alms giving had finished, Wanida Bunprakhong and local people made merit for H.M. The King by releasing 1,000,000 sea creatures into the Chao Phraya River. This is a common event done to make merit for birthdays. People usually release birds or fish. I thought that 1,000,000 was a staggering number to release in one go, but it turned out to be very small shrimps. These were in plastic bags which people emptied out into a large tub of water. From this there was a pipe which washed the shrimps out into the river below. This evening, Wanida Bunprakhong will lead the local people to light candles to wish the monarch a happy birthday.

Loy Krathong in October

Everyone knows about Loy Krathong that happens on the full moon in November. However, not many people know that we have another Loy Krathong in October. The phrase “loy krathong” means to float a bowl shaped container. It is not a festival like Christmas which celebrates a particular event. You can actually float a krathong at any time of the year. The annual event I went to tonight was called “Loy Krathong Jay” and is part of the ten day Vegetarian Festival that we are having in Thailand at the moment. The ceremony started at Rong Jay Thong Sian, near Taiban Circle in Paknam, and then all the participants walked all the way down to the Chao Phraya River at the City Hall Plaza. They were accompanied with musical instruments for their fifteen minute walk through the town.

We were lucky with the rain this year as it stopped shortly before the ceremony was due to start. A table was set up with candles and a food offering for the ancestors. Three monks led the chanting. The idea behind this ceremony is to change your misfortune and to float away your bad luck on the krathongs. But, this ceremony was also held to transfer this merit to the dead souls in the water and on earth. Each krathong had incense sticks which were lit before it was floated on the water. One horse-shaped krathong was also set on fire which is a common thing in Chinese ceremonies to pass merit onto dead ancestors.

The whole ceremony was over within 15 minutes. After the last krathong had been floated on the water, everyone then set off for the walk back to the Chinese temple. We are now more than half way through the Vegetarian Festival. There are more ceremonies to make merit for ancestors. On the last day, Thursday 6th October 2011, there will be a big parade through the town. I will be bringing you pictures of this parade next week. I have also posted some pictures of the vegetarian food that I have been eating over at www.ThaiFoodPhotos.com. More pictures from tonight can be seen on my facebook page.