Candle Procession and the Buddhist Rains Retreat

During the full moon of this month we celebrate the religious holiday of Asarnha Bucha Day. It commemorates the Buddha’s first sermon to his first five disciples. The following day marks the start of the Rains Retreat which is sometimes referred to as the Buddhist Lent. It lasts for about three months. This year, these two holidays are on 15th and 16th July 2011. These are public holidays and many people will go to the temple early in the morning to make merit. Then they will be back in the evening to take part in candlelight processions around the main stupa. They will also listen to sermons and many of them will make an effort to keep the Buddhist precepts.

In the days leading up to this Buddhist holiday, there are many parades around the Kingdom of Thailand of large candles that are given to monks at the temples. The candles are large enough to stay alight for the entire three months of the Buddhist Rains Retreat. However, some are much larger than others and certainly more beautifully decorated. The best of these can be seen in the annual parades in cities in Isaan such as at Ubon Ratchathani. I’ll be flying there next weekend and hopefully will be able to get some great photos to share with you. I have never been to the Candle Procession Festival in Ubon before and so I am very exited to be able to go this year.

One of my favourite festivals in Thailand for taking pictures is Tak Bat Dok Mai Festival at Wat Phra Phutthabat Ratchaworamaha Wihan in Saraburi Province. This always takes places at the start of the Buddhist Rains Retreat. This temple is famous for the Mondop at the top of a hill which houses a large Buddha’s footprint. Local people make merit by giving flowers to the monks. The flower is called Dok Khao Phansa and only blooms during this time of the year. The monks then climb the steep steps to the top of the hill. Then, after paying respects to the footprint, they descend the other side where even more followers are waiting. This time the lay people wash the feet of the novices and monks as they walk down the steps. This year this takes place on 15-16 July 2011 at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

The tradition of the Rains retreat dates back to the time of the Lord Buddha. He made it a rule that during the rainy season monks shouldn’t go wandering around the countryside as they could damage crops and insects underfoot. So, for the next three months, the monks have to choose a temple where they will stay. Tomorrow I will be going to take pictures at a mass ordination of an expected 20,000 monks. This is traditional for Thai males to become a monk at least once in their life. In fact, they are not considered a full man until they do so. If they work in a government office, then they are entitled to paid leave while they are in the monkhood. These days they usually only become a monk for a couple of weeks. However, if they become a monk during this time, they have to stay until the end of the Rains Retreat as no-one is allowed to leave during this period.

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