Khao Phansa is an important Buddhist festival in Thailand, marking the beginning of the annual three-month retreat during the rainy season for monks.
Date of the Khao Phansa 2023
Khao Phansa begins the day after the full moon of the eighth lunar month.
The specific dates of the rainy retreat vary depending on whether the full moon begins in June-July and ends in September-October of the Theravada Buddhist.
The next Khao Phansa will take place on 2 August 2023.
Origin of Khao Phansa
The Buddha advised his followers to observe a retreat during the rainy season for two main reasons.
First of all, the monsoons of the time made travelling on foot in India somewhat dangerous: the paths were muddy, the roads were covered with water and the rivers overflowed.
Secondly, monks who walked during the rainy season were at greater risk of accidentally injuring animals, they found themselves accidentally stepping on all sorts of animals, including creatures that rose to the surface of the earth during and immediately after the rains.
While all monks and nuns are expected to observe the rainy retreat, the Buddha granted a period of leave of up to seven days in certain circumstances, for example to attend to the sangha, give a teaching on the Dhamma or visit a sick relative.
The term Buddhist Lent was attached to vassavasa by observers who noted that some lay Buddhists in Southeast Asia fasted during the rainy retreat, citing parallels with Christian Lent (although vassavasa has been practised for more than five centuries before Lent).
In Thailand, many devout Buddhist laypeople do observe vassavasa by adopting more ascetic practices such as giving up meat, alcohol and tobacco.
They also engage in meritorious activities, including giving alms to the sangha, observing the Eight Precepts, practice meditationand listen to the Dhamma discourses.
Activities during the Khao Phansa
During the Khao Phansa the faithful donate carved wax candles to the temples, which the monks use as visual aids while chanting Buddhist texts during the night and performing other functions.
Candlelight processions are also held throughout the country.
Among the most famous provincial processions are the International Wax Candle Festival and Candle Procession in Ubon Ratchathani, the Candle Festivals in Nakhon Phanom and Suphanburi, the Korat Candle Procession Festival in Nakhon Ratchasima, the Tak Bat Dok Mai in Saraburi (Flower Merit Ceremony) and the Royal Candle Festival.
Each province has its own activities.
In Nakhon Phanom, religious activities take place at the important temple of Wat Phra That Phanom.
The Lat Chado waterfront market in Ayutthaya province is also famous for the Water Phansa Festival, where wax sculptures and candles are displayed on boats decorated with flowers.
Khao Phansa has three classes of ceremonies: the royal ceremony conducted by the King of Thailand, the ritual ceremonies for lay followers of Buddhism throughout the country, and the ceremonies performed by monks and nuns in the temples.
The royal ceremony is conducted by the king and members of the royal family, who perform rituals such as paying homage to the Buddha, offering candles and vestments to monastics.
Lay Buddhists throughout Thailand and other Theravada countries observe the day by performing various meritorious acts.
It is also common for men to be ordained as monks for the duration of the rainy retreat.
Khao Phansa is preceded by another important Buddhist celebration called Asanha Bucha in Thai.
This festival commemorates the historical Buddha's first teaching as recorded in the Dhammacakakkappavattana Sutta (The Discourse of Setting the Dharma Wheel in Motion) in Sarnath, India, after attaining enlightenment.
Asahna Bucha: Buddhist festival and public holiday
An important period for Buddhists
Asanha Bucha and Khao Phansa are the most important religious ceremonies in Thailand.
Both are national holidays, on which it is illegal to sell alcoholic beverages.
Bars and entertainment venues are therefore closed.
The end of the rainy retreat is marked by the Pavarana ceremony, during which the sangha members have the opportunity to remind each other of the misdeeds committed during the retreat.
This is followed by the Kathina offering festival, which continues for a month.
Video of a parade during the Khao Phansa
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