By: Emily Moyer and Kylie Harrison
Vesak day (also known as Buddha Purnima or Buddha Day) is a national holiday observed in many Buddhist and Hindu countries, including Thailand. It is considered to be the most significant Buddhist holiday because it commemorates the three defining events in the life of Buddha- the birth, the enlightenment, and the passing away (“Buddhist Lent Day”, n.d). Buddha was born during the 6th century B.C and attained enlightenment at the age of 35, providing the tenets of Buddhism which he taught until his death at the age of 80 (“Buddha”, 2018) Buddhists believe he entered Nirvana, escaping all suffering and reincarnation (“Visakha Bucha Day 2018 and 2019”, n.d). All three defining moments land on the same month and date, known as the Vesak Full Moon day.
The holiday is celebrated in many different ways by Buddhists around the world. In Thailand specifically, it is named Visakha Bucha day. While it does not have a fixed day each year, it typically falls in May or June. The date changes each year depending upon the lunar cycle. In a normal year, the holiday falls on the full-moon day of the sixth month or Visakha month (May). In the event that there are 13 full moons in a year, the holiday will fall on the full-moon day of the seventh month, June (“Visakha Bucha day”, n.d) This year, Thailand will celebrate the holiday on Tuesday, May 29th.
To commemorate this day most Thai Buddhists will visit their local temples to “make merit” and engage in special rituals such as giving donations, listening to sermons on Buddha’s teachings, meditating, and committing themselves to Buddhism (“Visakha Bucha Day 2018 and 2019”, n.d). For example, in Chiang Mai, thousands of Buddhists will make a 6.83-mile pilgrimage to the Doi Suthep temple the day before Buddha day (Menasian, 2017)
There are other activities that can be observed on this day. One is the candlelight processions that take place at major temples. This occurs on the evening of Visakha Bucha day and involves walking around the temples three times in a clockwise direction with incense sticks, lighted candles, and lotus buds (“Visakha Bucha Day 2016”, 2016). The temple is circled three times to commemorate the Three Jewels, the Buddha, the Dharma or Buddha’s teachings, and the Sangha (monastic community of monks) (“Thailand Festivals Makha Bucha Day Celebrated by Buddhists in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos”, 2017).
Rub sil refers to the abstinence from all kinds of immoral acts (“Buddhist Lent Day”, n.d) Many Buddhists participate in keeping the Five Moral Precepts, which include refraining from: harming living things, taking what is not given, sexual misconduct, lying or gossip, and taking intoxicating substances (drugs or alcohol) (“The Five Precepts”, n.d). As such, and in line with the sacredness of Visakha Bucha Day, there are restrictions on the sale of alcohol. The government asks that no alcohol be served on this day and though this it is not a legal requirement, police will strictly enforce the no alcoholic sales “request” (Pattaya Mail, 2011). Because fines can be given to those caught breaking these rules, many bars and clubs elect to close for the day (Plerin, 2012).
In conclusion, Visakha Bucha day is a very significant and vibrant holiday in Thailand in which Buddhists celebrate the importance of Buddha. The day is about giving to monks and to those in need. It is a remarkable and educational experience for tourists who decide to participate in the celebrations.
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Visakha Bucha – Walk to Wot Doi Suthep. (2017, May 10). Retrieved from http://twotravelabroad.com/blog/visakha-bucha-walk-to-wot-doi-suthep/
Visakha Bucha Day 2016 – A UNESCO World Heritage Day. (2016, June 20). Retrieved from https://www.hoteldebangkok.com/bangkok-blog/visakha-bucha-day-2016/
Visakha Bucha Day 2018 and 2019 – Public Holidays Thailand. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://publicholidays.asia/thailand/visakha-bucha-day/
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