There are few things that enchant visitors to Thailand as much as the piety of the people. The rituals of Theravada Buddhism infuse every aspect of life in the kingdom – from the charming wai gesture that nearly all Thai people make when passing a temple, to life events such as weddings, funerals, and ordinations.
This devout side of Thai life means that many tourists often time their visits to coincide with Buddhist festivals. One of the important of these is Khao Phansa, or Buddhist Lent Day, which is celebrated very differently across the nation.
What is Khao Phansa?
Khao Phansa, the first day of Buddhist Lent (vassavasa) takes place the day after the full moon of the eighth lunar month and marks the start of the rainy season, when monks retreat to their temples. Here they spend three months in study and meditation. This retreat to the temples is based on an edict of Lord Buddha issued to ensure monks did no damage to crops or accidently stood on insects, hidden in the floodwaters.Many Thais observe Vassavasa with fasting, the avoidance of alcohol, meat, tobacco and gambling.
This self-denial is why there are comparisons with Christian Lent. But Khao Phansa is a more colourful festival, with elaborately carved candles being the centre of the celebrations.Traditionally, candles were donated to monasteries enabling monks to continue their studies into the evenings. Nowadays, these offerings take the form of huge wax effigies which are shown off in local parades.
These processions boast a uniquely Thai blend of artistry, fun and festival and are accompanied by folk dances, displays of local crafts and sound and light performances relating local stories.