Wednesday the 10th is Visakha Bucha Day. This day is the most important Buddhist holiday and celebrated by Buddhists all over the world. Visakha Bucha is also publicly recognized as a national holiday in countries with a large number of Buddhist inhabitants.
The day commemorates the widely considered three biggest events in the life of Buddha: his birth, his enlightenment, and his death. These events are believed to have occurred on the day of the full moon in the sixth month of the lunar-based Thai calendar. While this generally puts the holiday in May on the Gregorian (western) calendar, it has been celebrated in June at times as well.
Birth of Buddha
The first event of the life of Buddha was his birth, which was approximately 2500 years ago in Lumbini, Nepal. Lumbini is now seen as a Buddhist pilgrimage site, housing a number of temples such as the Mayadevi temple. The place is now considered an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Buddha, was born as a rich prince but chose to leave the life of luxury in a search of wisdom. He went to the wise hermits that were living in the woodlands spread out through the region at the time. However, he felt disappointed and instead chose to meditate under a Bodhi tree. There he attained enlightenment, 35 years of age and formulated the basic tenets of Buddhism. At the same date but approximately 45 years later at an age of 80 Buddha died. According to Buddhist religion he then entered a state of ‘nirvana’ and thus escaping all suffering.
In Thailand, the day is a time for devout Buddhists to go to local temples and to “make merit”. While Visakha Bucha Day is definitely a time to make merit, it does not limit itself to that. There are many sermons on Buddha’s teachings and the devout will go to and meditate as well as recommit themselves to follow the five, or possibly the ten precepts of Buddhism as well as offering food to the temple workers. Some also set birds or fish free as a means of eliminating “negative karma”
The five biggest and widely known & followed precepts which to refrain from are
- Harming living things
- Taking what is not given
- Sexual misconduct
- Lying or gossiping
- Taking intoxicating substances e.g. drugs or drinks
Buddhist monks have ten precepts to live by, which are the 5 mentioned above and the following ones.
- Taking substantial food after midday (from noon to dawn)
- Dancing, singing, and music
- Use of garlands, perfumes and personal adornment like jewellery
- Use of luxurious beds and seats
- Accepting and holding money, gold or silver.
Experiencing Visakha Bucha Day as a tourist
The sale of alcohol becomes prohibited during the Visakha Bucha Day and thus many bars close temporarily. The most celebrations are private and of a religious background, but tourists can visit few of the many temples that become even more alive than normally during Visakha Bucha Day.
Wat Pho is the oldest Buddhist temple in Bangkok and dates from the 7th century. The ashes of King Rama 1 are enshrined inside the temple and the famed Reclining Buddha is also located in this temple. The reclining Buddha symbolizes Buddha’s entrance into nirvana at his death. Besides that, the temples architecture is extremely ornate, colourful, and complex.
Another great temple to visit is the Wat Phrathart Doi Suthep. At this temple a large pilgrimage takes place every year during Visakha Bucha Day. Led by candlelight, many devotees circle the chapel of the temple. They move in a clockwise direction while carrying incense sticks and lotus buds. The temple has a stunning view over the city with a panoramic view.
The tourists visiting Thailand during Visakha Bucha Day will see the country cheer up during the holiday with the temples being crowded with worshippers and tourists alike. Whether you join in on the festivities or just admire the architecture, history, and activities Visakha Bucha Day is enjoyable and memorable for everyone involved.