|There are many special
or holy days held throughout the year by the Buddhist community. Many of these days
celebrate the birthdays of Bodhisattvas in the Mahayana tradition or other significant
dates in the Buddhist calendar. The most significant celebration happens every May on the
night of the full moon, when Buddhist all over the world celebrate the birth,
enlightenment and death of the Buddha over 2,500 years ago. It has become to be known as
Festivals are always joyful occasions. Typically on a festival day, lay people will go the
the local temple or monastery and offer food to the monks and take the Five Precepts and
listen to a Dharma talk. In the afternoon, they distribute food to the poor to make merit
and in the evening join perhaps in a ceremony of circumambulation a stupa three time as a
sign of respect to the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha. The day will conclude with evening chanting
of the Buddha's teachings and meditation.
Some holy days are specific to a
particular Buddhist tradition or ethnic group (as above). There are two aspects to take
into consideration regarding Buddhist festivals: Most Buddhists, with the exception of the
Japanese, use the Lunar Calendar and the dates of Buddhist festivals vary from country to
country and between Buddhist traditions. There are so many Buddhist festivals, here are
some of the more important ones:
Buddhist New Year
In Theravadin countries, Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Lao, the new year is
celebrated for three days from the first full moon day in April. In Mahayana countries the
new year starts on the first full moon day in January. However, the Buddhist New Year
depends on the country of origin or ethnic background of the people. As for example,
Chinese, Koreans and Vietnamese celebrate late January or early February according to the
lunar calendar, whilst the Tibetans usually celebrate about one month later.
Visakah Puja ("Buddha Day")
Traditionally, Buddha's Birthday is known as Vesak or Visakah Puja
(Buddha's Birthday Celebrations). Vesak is the major Buddhist festival of the year as it
celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha on the one day, the first full
moon day in May, except in a leap year when the festival is held in June. This celebration
is called Vesak being the name of the month in the Indian calendar.
Magha Puja Day (Fourfold
Assembly or "Sangha Day")
Magha Puja Day takes places on the full moon day of the third lunar month (March). This
holy day is observed to commemorate an important event in the life of the Buddha. This
event occurred early in the Buddha's teaching life.
After the first Rains Retreat
(Vassa) at the Deer Park at Sarnath, the Buddha went to Rajagaha city where 1250
Arahats,(Enlightened saints) who were the Buddha's disciples, without prior appointment,
returned from their wanderings to pay respect to the Buddha. They assembled in the
Veruvana Monastery with the two chief disciples of the Buddha, Ven. Sariputta and Ven.
The assembly is called the Fourfold
Assembly because it consisted of four factors: (1) All 1250 were Arahats; (2) All of them
were ordained by the Buddha himself; (3) They assembled by themselves without any
prior call; (4) It was the full moon day of Magha month (March).
Asalha Puja Day
Asalha Puja means to pay homage to the Buddha on the full moon day of the 8th lunar month
(approximately July). It commemorates the Buddha's first teaching: the turning of the
wheel of the Dhamma (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta) to the five ascetics at the Deer Park
(Sarnath) near Benares city, India. Where Kondanna, the senior ascetic attained the first
level of enlightenment (the Sotapanna level of mind purity).
The four monthly holy days which continue to be observed in Theravada countries - the
new moon, full moon, and quarter moon days. Known in Sri Lanka as Poya Day. [ Web Link:
Observance Days ]
This day marks the conclusion of the Rains retreat (vassa). In the following month, the
kathina ceremony is held, during which the laity gather to make formal offerings of robe
cloth and other requisites to the Sangha.
(Robe offering ceremony)
Is held on any convenient date within one month of the conclusion of the Vassa Retreat,
which is the three month rains retreat season (Vassa) for the monastic order. It is the
time of the year when new robes and other requisites may be offered by the laity to the
At the end of one rains retreat (vassa), the Buddha was so pleased with the progress of
the assembled monks that he encouraged them to extend their retreat for yet another month.
On the full-moon day marking the end of that fourth month of retreat, he presented his
now-famous instructions on mindfulness of breathing (anapanasati), which may be
found in the Anapanasati Sutta (MN 118) - The Discourse on Mindfulness of Breathing.
In the Burmese tradition, this day celebrates the occasion when the Buddha is said to have
gone to the Tushita Heaven to teach his mother the Abhidhamma. It is held on the full moon
of the seventh month of the Burmese lunar year starting in April which corresponds to the
full moon day in October.
This Thai Buddhist festival goes on for several days during the middle of April. People
clean their houses and wash their clothes and enjoy sprinkling perfumed water on the
monks, novices and other people for at least two or three days. They gather around
the riverbank, carrying fishes in jars to put into the water, for April is so hot in
Thailand that the ponds dry out and the fish would die if not rescued. People go to the
beach or river bank with jars or buckets of water and splash each other. When everyone is
happily wet they are usually entertained by boat races on the river.
Loy Krathong (Festival
of Floating Bowls)
At the end of the Kathin Festival season, when the rivers and canals are full of water,
the Loy Krathong Festival takes place in all parts of Thailand on the full moon night of
the Twelfth Lunar month. People bring bowls made of leaves (which contain flowers) candles
and incense sticks, and float them in the water. As they go, all bad luck is suppose to
disappear. The traditional practice of Loy Krathong was meant to pay homage to the holy
footprint of the Buddha on the beach of the Namada River in India.
The Ploughing Festival
In May, when the moon is half-full, two white oxen pull a gold painted plough, followed by
four girls dressed in white who scatter rice seeds from gold and silver baskets. This is
to celebrate the Buddha's first moment of enlightenment, which is said to have happened
when the Buddha was seven years old, when he had gone with his father to watched the
ploughing. (Known in Thailand as Raek Na)
The Elephant Festival
The Buddha used the example of a wild elephant which, when it is caught, is harnessed to a
tame one to train. In the same way, he said, a person new to Buddhism should have a
special friendship of an older Buddhist. To mark this saying, Thais hold an elephant
festival on the third Saturday in November.
The Festival of the
Kandy is a beautiful city in Sri Lanka. On a small hill is a great temple which was
especially built to house a relic of the Buddha - his tooth. The tooth can never be seen,
as it is kept deep inside may caskets. But once a year in August, on the night of the full
moon, there is a special procession for it.
Is celebrated throughout the Mahayana tradition from the first to the fifteenth days of
the eighth lunar month. It is believed that the gates of Hell are opened on the first day
and the ghosts may visit the world for fifteen days. Food offerings are made during this
time to relieve the sufferings of these ghosts. On the fifteenth day, Ulambana or Ancestor
Day, people visit cemeteries to make offerings to the departed ancestors. Many Theravadins
from Cambodia, Laos and Thailand also observe this festival.
Ulambana is also a Japanese Buddhist
festival known as Obon, beginning on the thirteenth of July and lasting for three days,
which celebrates the reunion of family ancestors with the living.
(Kuan Yin) Birthday
This is a festival which celebrates the Bodhisattva ideal represented by Avalokitesvara.
Who represents the perfection of compassion in the Mahayana traditions of Tibet and China.
It occurs on the full moon day in March.