Makha Bucha, which is also known as Magha Puja, is a public holiday in Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. It is a season when Buddhist all over the nations go to the temple to carry out merit-making activities. The holiday is nationally recognized in Thailand. There are four highly significant Theravada Buddhist holidays in Thailand, and the Magha Puja is one of the most significant among them, providing an entire day for committed Buddhist to visit temples for religious formalities.
There are five and eight moral precepts of the Buddhist holy day, and a large number of Thais observe them. There are certain do’s and don’ts you need to keep in mind when you visit Thailand during Magha Puja. In this article is a detailed explanation of what Magha Puja (aka Makha Bucha) is, how the Thais see the occasion, and how a tourist can be part of the event.
The traditional calendar of Thailand is a lunar calendar, and it is said to be similar to the lunisolar Buddhist calendar. On the lunar calendar, Makha is the third month and the word “Bucha” simply means to honor. Makha Bucha honors the full moon day in the third month on the lunar calendar when the fundamental teachings of Buddha were delivered.
The fundamental teachings of Buddha were referred to as Ovada Patimokkha, which briefly translates to “to stop all evil deeds; to do good deeds; and the cleansing of one’s mind.” Precisely, the Makha Bucha day took place nine months after Buddha attained Enlightenment and forty-five years before the Buddhist era.
According to history, there are four special things that occurred on the Magha Puja day, including:
The appearance of a full moon – full moon day
There was a spontaneous gathering of 1,250 monks at the Veluvana Temple to see Buddha.
Buddha ordained all the monks (Sangha) himself.
All the monks ordained by Buddha were Arahant (enlightened).
Thailand did not observe the Magha Puja day until the second half of the 19th-century when King Mongkut began the celebration of the occasion in his royal court. The ceremony had been a royal event for quite some time before temples across the nation structured ceremonies that could be attended by commoners.
The Lunar cycle is actually what determines the date of this significant Buddhist holy day. The Makha Bucha event takes place on the full moon day of the third month on the lunar calendar, and this usually falls in either February or March.
In 2017, 2018, and 2019, the Makha Bucha day falls on February 11, March 1, and February 19 respectively in Thailand. It falls on February 11th, January 31st, and February 19th in 2017, 2018, and 2019 respectively in Cambodia. While in Myanmar, the event falls on March 12th, March 1st, and March 21st in 2017, 2018, and 2019 respectively.
Apart from serving monks food in alm bowls which people do on a daily basis, Buddhists in Thailand go to the temple to carry out merit-making activities. A lot of people observe the five precepts which include no consumption of alcohol. Also, there are processions of candlelight in the evening and this is called wian thian (where wian means to circle around and thian means candle).
People usually walk in a clockwise direction around the Ordination Hall (Ubosot) three times, holding incenses, candles, flowers, and praying. They also practice mental discipline, meditation, put on white robes, and stay in the temple. They usually do these for a couple of days.
Buddhist activities and ceremonies take place at meditation centers and temples across the nation from dawn to dusk. Praying and meditation at some centers starts before midnight and continues until the early hours of the morning.
While some merit-making activities, such as meditation, only allows members, you can observe a candlelight procession at the temple, except you are a Buddhist and you want to partake in a procession. Two great sites to observe a candlelight procession in Bangkok are the Wat Benjamabopit (also known as the Marble Temple) and the Golden Mountain.
At the Golden Mountain, the procession is led by monks up the hilltop pagoda. The local government of Prachin Buri – a region situated three hours northeast of Bangkok, usually organizes the Magha Puja fair where religious events occur alongside a release of lanterns into the night sky, puja Buddhism exhibitions, a cultural procession, and markets. They usually do this every year.
The location of the ceremony itself is a significant archeological site associated with the early era of Buddhism in Thailand. At Yasothon’s Ban Fa Yat in Northeastern Thailand, Magha Puja gets more festive with the traditional Garland dances and procession.
Flowers and popped rice – which are usually offered to Buddha – are paraded all over the village and strung into beautiful garlands. The procession usually takes place a day before the main Makha Bucha day.
Although Magha Puja is a Buddhist holiday that is recognized nationwide, commercial centers and banks continue with their normal activities. They don’t sell alcohol from the midnight of the event to the midnight of the Buddhist holy day. This means you can’t purchase alcohol from bars and convenient stores. Nevertheless, you can be served alcohol at hotel bars.
When you go to any temple to partake in the rituals and ceremonies, you have to keep your voice down. “Temple visits” code of behavior applies. This means you have to conduct yourself and be at your best behavior.
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