THERAVADA BUDDHIST HOLIDAYS AND RELIGION CEREMONIES
The Buddhist calendar begins when Buddha passed away at the age of 80. To calculate the year in the Buddhist Era add 544 years to the current year. Or to figure out the modern calendar year for a Buddhist year subtract 544 years.
Seven Sacred days of Theravada Buddhism: 1) Monday, Full Moon Day of Warso: Buddha left the kingdom; 2) Tuesday, Full Moon Day of Kason: Buddha died; 3) Wednesday, Full Moon Day of Kason: Buddha obtained Buddhaship; 4) Thursday, Full Moon Day of Warso: pregnancy of Buddha began; 5) Friday, Full Moon Day of Kason: Buddha was born; 6) Saturday, Full Moon Day of Warso: Buddha preached for first time; 7) Sunday, Moonless Day of Kason: Buddha's body was cremated. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]
Of all the life cycle and family ceremonies, funeral rites are the most elaborate. When a person is dying, he or she should fix his or her mind on the Buddhist scriptures or repeat some of the names of the Buddha. If the last thoughts of the dying person are directed toward the Buddha and his precepts, the fruits of this meritorious behavior will be repaid to the deceased in the next incarnation. After his or her death, other meritorious acts are performed for the benefit of the deceased, such as attendance at the wake and provision of food to the officiating monks. Every effort is made to banish sorrow, loneliness, and fear of the spirits by means of music and fellowship. [Source: Library of Congress]
Ceremonies in the wat consist of those that benefit the entire community and those that primarily affect the sangha. The first kind include the rites held on such occasions as Mahka Bucha (an important February holiday that marks the beginning of the season for making pilgrimages to Phra Phuttabaht, the Buddha's Footprint Shrine), Wisakha Bucha (a festival commemorating the Buddha's birth, enlightenment, and death), Khao Phansa (the holiday marking the beginning of the three-month Buddhist holy season, July to October), and Thot Kathin (a festival during which robes and other items are given to the monks by the laity). Ceremonies that primarily concern the sangha include ordination, confession, recitation of the 227 monastic rules, and distribution of new robes after Thot Kathin.
Of all the ceremonies affecting the sangha, ordination is the one in which the laity are most involved, both physically and spiritually. Frequently, before a young man makes his initial entry into the sangha, a ceremony is held in the home of the aspirant to prepare him for ordination. His khwan is invited to enter the sangha with him; otherwise, evil and illness might befall him. He is informed of his parents' happiness with his decision, of the sacrifices they have made for him, and of the life of austerity and discipline he is to begin. In Thailand, it is a popular belief that by becoming a monk great merit is gained, merit which also accrues to persons or parents who sponsor the ordination.
Websites and Resources on Buddhism: Buddha Net buddhanet.net/e-learning/basic-guide ; Religious Tolerance Page religioustolerance.org/buddhism ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Internet Sacred Texts Archive sacred-texts.com/bud/index ; Introduction to Buddhism webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/buddhaintro ; Early Buddhist texts, translations, and parallels, SuttaCentral suttacentral.net ; East Asian Buddhist Studies: A Reference Guide, UCLA web.archive.org ; View on Buddhism viewonbuddhism.org ; Tricycle: The Buddhist Review tricycle.org ; BBC - Religion: Buddhism bbc.co.uk/religion ; Buddhist Centre thebuddhistcentre.com; A sketch of the Buddha's Life accesstoinsight.org ; What Was The Buddha Like? by Ven S. Dhammika buddhanet.net ; Jataka Tales (Stories About Buddha) sacred-texts.com ; Illustrated Jataka Tales and Buddhist stories ignca.nic.in/jatak ; Buddhist Tales buddhanet.net ; Arahants, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas by Bhikkhu Bodhi accesstoinsight.org ; Victoria and Albert Museum vam.ac.uk/collections/asia/asia_features/buddhism/index ;
Theravada Buddhism: Readings in Theravada Buddhism, Access to Insight accesstoinsight.org/ ; Readings in Buddhism, Vipassana Research Institute (English, Southeast Asian and Indian Languages) tipitaka.org ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Encyclopædia Britannica britannica.com ; Pali Canon Online palicanon.org ; Vipassanā (Theravada Buddhist Meditation) Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Pali Canon - Access to Insight accesstoinsight.org ; Forest monk tradition abhayagiri.org/about/thai-forest-tradition ; BBC Theravada Buddhism bbc.co.uk/religion
Holidays and Festivals in Theravada Buddhist Countries
In Myanmar Full Moon Days in the traditional lunar calendar are celebrated every month. Many major Buddhist holidays are linked to these full moon days. Pagoda festivals are also held at various pagodas throughout the year. Burmese equivalents of western fun fairs, these events feature food stalls, toy shops, shops with consumer goods, magic shows, puppet shows and dramas.
Laos has many festivals and celebrations. The Lao people love any excuse to have a party or family get together. Most festivals are linked with Buddhist events and the agricultural cycle. The Buddhist lunar calendar has a festival ("boun") at the full moon of almost every month. There are also many Buddhist ceremonies to mark occasions like a son becoming a monk and blessing a house. Animist ritual are also performed by individual households.
Festival dates often vary from year as many are tied to the lunar calendar. The Lao lunar calendar is more or less the same as the ones used in Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar. The calendar used in these countries is a lunisolar Buddhist calendar that is used for calculating lunar-regulated holy days. Based on the Southeast Asia's siddhanta "SuriyaYatra", derived from the third-century Surya Siddhanta (a Hindu calendar), these combine lunar and solar calendars for a nominal year of 12 months. An extra day or an extra 30-day month is intercalated at regular intervals; Thai, Lao, and Cambodian versions do not add an extra day to years with an extra month. The system is somewhat similar to the one used in the Chinese (and Vietnamese) lunar calendar with primary difference being that Southeast Asian lunar months are about two months later than the Chinese ones, hence New Year in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar is celebrated in April while Chinese and Vietnamese New Year are usually in February.
In Sri Lanka the full moon day (Poya Day) of each month is of special religious significance. They are generally regarded as stolen occasions and people are expected not to show the are enjoying themselves. Buddha came to the full relation of the noble truth on the most important of these full moon days—Vesak, Duruthu, Navam, Vesak, Poson and Esala are celebrated with colorful traditional rituals, ceremonies and sometimes with glittery pageantry.
In Thailand The annual cycle of holidays and festivals has traditionally been tied to the agricultural cycle. Songkran (Thai New Year) is held at the end of the dry season in April. The day marking the birth, death and enlightenment of Buddha marks the beginning of the rainy season. A number of festivals are held in the harvest season in the fall. Other festivals and rituals are connected with ways of earning merit and honoring monks.
The Burmese have their own calendar: The year 2004 on the Western calendar was 1365 on the Burmese calendar. New Year (Thingyan) is in April, more than two months after the New Year in other Asian countries, which usually celebrate their traditional New Year in mid February, according to the Chinese calendar. The Burmese calendar subscribes to both the solar and lunar months, thus requiring an intercalary 30-day 13th month every second or third year. Therefore. the full moon days may change from one month to another in the usual calendar.
The Burmese calendar (also called Burmese Era (BE) or Myanmar Era (ME)) is a lunisolar calendar in which the months are based on lunar months and years are based on solar years. The calendar is largely is based on an older version of the Hindu calendar though unlike the Indian systems, it employs a 19-year Metonic cycle. The calendar therefore has to reconcile the sidereal years of the Hindu calendar with Metonic cycle's tropical years by adding intercalary months and days on irregular intervals. [Source: Wikipedia + ]
The calendar has been used continuously in various Burmese states since its launch in A.D. 640 in Sri Ksetra Kingdom. It was also used as the official calendar in other mainland Southeast Asian kingdoms of Arakan, Lan Na, Xishuangbanna, Lan Xang, Siam, and Cambodia down to the late 19th century. Today, the calendar is used only in Myanmar as the traditional civil calendar, alongside the Buddhist calendar. It is still used to mark traditional holidays such as the Burmese New Year, and other traditional festivals, many of which are Burmese Buddhist in nature. +
Origin of the Burmese Calendar
The Burmese chronicles trace the origin of the Burmese calendar to ancient India with the introduction of Kali Yuga Era in 3102 B.C.. That seminal calendar is said to have been recalibrated by King Añjana , the maternal grandfather of the Buddha in 691 B.C.. That calendar in turn was recalibrated and replaced by the Buddhist Era with the starting year of 544 B.C.. The Buddhist Era came to be adopted in the early Pyu city-states by the beginning of the Common Era. Then in A.D. 78 a new era called Maha-sakaraj Era (also called Sakra Era or Saka Era) was launched in India. Two years later, the new era was adopted in the Pyu state of Sri Ksetra, and the era later spread to the rest of the Pyu states. The chronicles continue that the Pagan Kingdom at first followed the prevailing Maha-sakaraj but in A.D. 640. King Popa Sawrahan (r. 613–640) recalibrated the calendar, named the new era Kawza Thekkarit, with a Year Zero starting date of 22 March A.D. 638. It was used as the civil calendar while the Buddhist Era remained in use as the religious calendar. [Source: Wikipedia +]
Scholarship accepts the chronicle narrative regarding the North Indian origin of the calendar and the chronology of adoption in Burma up to the Maha-sakaraj Era. Recent research suggests that the Gupta Era (Epochal year of A.D. 320) may also have been in use in the Pyu states.[note 1] Mainstream scholarship however holds that the recalibrated calendar was launched at Sri Ksetra, and later adopted by the upstart principality of Pagan. +
The calendar fell out of the official status in several mainland Southeast Asian kingdoms in the second half of the 19th century with the arrival of the European colonialism. The Gregorian calendar replaced the Burmese calendar in Cambodia in 1863, Burma in 1885 and Laos in 1889. In 1889, the only remaining independent kingdom in Southeast Asia, Siam, also replaced the Burmese calendar and switched to the Gregorian calendar as the official civil calendar and Ratanakosin Era (with A.D. 1782 as Year 1) as the traditional lunisolar calendar. Today, the calendar is used purely for cultural and religious festivals in Myanmar. Thailand has moved on to its own version of Buddhist calendar since 1941 although the Chulasakarat era dates remain the most commonly used and preferred form of entry by the academia for historical studies. The Chittagong Magi-San calendar, identical to the Arakanese calendar, is still used by certain ethnic minorities of Bangladesh. +
Days, Months and Years on the Burmese Calendar
The Burmese calendar recognizes two types of day: astronomical and civil. The mean Burmese astronomical day is from midnight to midnight, and represents 1/30th of a synodic month or 23 hours, 37 minutes and 28.08 seconds. The civil day comprises two halves, the first half beginning at sunrise and the second half at sunset. In practice, four points of the astronomical and civil day (sunrise, noon, sunset, and midnight) were used as reference points. The civil day is divided into 8 baho) (3 hours) or 60 nayi) (24 minutes), each baho equaling 7.5 nayi. In the past, a gong) was struck every nayi while a drum) and a large bell, were struck to mark every baho. The civil week consists of seven days. It was also customary to denote the week of the day with by its preassigned numerical value between zero and six. The names Taninganwe (Sunday) and Taninla (Monday) are derived from Old Burmese but the rest from Sanskrit. [Source: Wikipedia +]
The calendar recognizes two types of months: synodic month and sidereal month. The Synodic months are used to compose the years while the 27 lunar sidereal days; from Sanskrit nakshatra), alongside the 12 signs of the zodiac, are used for astrological calculations. (The calendar also recognizes a solar month called Thuriya Matha, which is defined as 1/12th of a year. But the solar month varies by the type of year such as tropical year, sidereal year, etc.) The days of the month are counted in two halves, waxing. and waning. The 15th of the waxing is the civil full moon day. The civil new moon day, is the last day of the month (14th or 15th waning). The mean and real (true) New Moons rarely coincide. The mean New Moon often precedes the real New Moon. +
As the Synodic lunar month is approximately 29.5 days, the calendar uses alternating months of 29 and 30 days. The 29-day months are called yet-ma-son la , and the 30-day months are called yet-son la . Unlike in other Southeast Asian traditions, the Burmese calendar uses Burmese names for the month names. Although the names sound foreign in origin to modern Burmese ears, all but three are derived from Old Burmese. The three exceptions—Mleta/Myweta, Nanka , Thantu —which all fall during the Buddhist Lent, have been replaced by newer Burmese names (Waso, Wagaung, Thadingyut), which used to mean just the Full Moon days of the three months. +
The calendar recognizes three types of astronomical year: tropical year, sidereal year and anomalistic year The Burmese calendar is a lunisolar calendar in which the months are based on lunar months and years are based on solar years. One of its primary objectives is to regulate the lunar part that it will keep pace with the solar part. The lunar months, normally twelve of them, consist alternately of 29 days and 30 days, such that a normal lunar year will contain 354 days, as opposed to the solar year of ~365.25 days. Therefore some form of addition to the lunar year (of intercalation) is necessary. The overall basis for it is provided by cycles of 57 years. Eleven extra days are inserted in every 57 years, and seven extra months of 30 days are inserted in every 19 years (21 months in 57 years). This provides 20819 complete days to both calendars. +
As such, the calendar adds an intercalary month in leap years, and sometimes also an intercalary day in great leap years. The intercalary month not only corrects the length of the year but also corrects the accumulating error of the month to extent of half a day. The average length of the month is further corrected by adding a day to Nayon at irregular intervals—a little more than seven times in two cycles (39 years). The intercalary day is never inserted except in a year which has an intercalary month. The Hindu calendar inserts an intercalary month at any time of year as soon as the accumulated fractions amount to one month. The Burmese calendar however always inserts the intercalary month at the same time of the year, after the summer solstice while the Arakanese calendar inserts it after the vernal equinox. +
The actual calendar year (Wawharamatha Hnit, consists of 354, 384 or 385 days. The calendar used to employ a 12-year Jovian cycle that redeployed the lunar month names and attached them to the years. The Burmese cycle is not the more familiar Jovian cycle of India with 60 years in it. The practice existed in the Pagan period but had died out by the 17th century. It still exists in Thailand and Cambodia with the same names. +
The following is a list of festivals listed by Western calendar month with the Burmese names of the months linked to it in parenthesis.
Boun Pavet in Laos celebrates the jataka or birth-tale of Prince Vestsantara, the Buddha's penultimate life. It is also considered particularly auspicious time for the ordination of a monk.
Ananda Pagoda Festival in Pagan, Myanmar is a month-long Buddhist festival at Ananda temple, one of the most beautiful and holiest monuments in Pagan. Myanmar. It is usually falls in January. busiest day of the festival is on the full-moon day of the lunar month. Villagers and pilgrims around Pagan arrive at the sacred site of for the consecration. Ananda Pagoda is probably the finest largest and best preserved of all the Pagan temples. In addition to being a time of Buddhist rituals and for the reunification, propagation and perpetuation of Buddhism the festival is also meant to be a social gathering. A sea of vendors and shops sell traditional Myanmar foods and other things. Ananda temple festival falls on the full moon of Pyatho (usually between December and January according to the Lunar Calendar. The festival attracts thousands of locals from near and far. Up to a thousand monks chant day and night during the three days of the festival.
February, March—Full Moon of Tabaung Festival is when offerings are made to monks and to Buddha's eight hairs at Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. Special glutinous rice cakes called htamane are eaten. The twelfth Myanmar month and the last month in the Myanmar calendar usually falls in February-March. It is the time of transition from the cold to the hot season, when the skies are blue and the rivers are quiet. Itt is no wonder that poets through the ages have praised the scenic beauty associated with this month. In the old ay when the water level in the rivers dropped Burmese royalty built stupas from sand on exposed sand banks emerged during this period.
The raising of stupas made of sand and festivities surrounding this activity used to be a prominent feature of this month. The stupas were molded from river sand into the shape of a stupa using concentric rings of bamboo matting or rattan cane to form the outline. The supa was decorated with various religious motifs, pennants, banners, and real and artificial flowers.
Now, the practice is on the wane, except in some cities and towns in upper part of Myanmar, and the sand stupas are more likely to be celebrated in song and literature rather than in actual fact. But still Tabaung is a sacred time for holding of Buddha Pujayanti ceremonies (the rededication of pagodas). Several prominent Paya-pwes (Pagoda Festivals) are held during this month, for instance, Shwedagon Pagoda Festival at Yangon (Capital City of Myanmar). During the pagoda festivals, vendors and food sellers set up shop stalls. There are shows with theatrical troupes, dancing troupes and marionettes.
Wat Phu Festival at Wat Phou in Champasack Province in Laos features traditional dance and theater and is one of the biggest festivals in Laos. It is held at Wat Phu, Laos's most splendid ruins which were built by the same kings that built Angkor Wat. There is elephants racing, buffalo fighting, cockfighting and performances of Lao traditional music and dance. A trade fair showcasing the products from the southern province of Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam is also held. This religious festival is held every year on the full moon of the 3rd month of lunar calendar (in 2012 it fell on 6-8 February, in 2013 around February 25). It is believed that ever since Buddhism recognized Wat Phou as a site of huge religious and cultural importance, local authorities, together with several other organisations and local people, have organized Boun Wat Phou (Wat Phou Festival) on 15th day of the 3rd month of Lao lunar calendar. One of its purposes is to commemorate all those who have contributed to this wonder of ancient architecture.
Based on traditional Buddhist practices, the festival is held for either three days and three nights or seven days and seven night. It hosts displays of traditional music, dance, sports and a variety of local produce. Most importantly of all, on the final day, senior dignitaries and religious figures from around the country, come to take part in a traditional Taak Baat (alms ceremony). The festival also includes a parade of elephant or horses, a crafts fair and demonstrations of ancient traditions passed down by generations of people living off the surrounding land.
Makha Busa in Laos is a festival that commemorates Buddha's first sermon and is observed at Buddhist temple all over Laos. It features chanting and offerings and climaxes with a candlelight procession around wats. Also known as Magha Puja, this day is celebrated on the full moon of the third lunar month and commemorates the preaching of Buddha to the 1250 enlightened monks who came to hear him "without prior summons".
March 7th—Maha Puja in Thailand is a nationwide holiday that celebrates the day when 1,250 of Buddha's disciples gathered without pre-arrangement to hear him preach. Merit-making ceremonies take place during the day at the temples. During the night candlelight processions walk three time around the monastery chapels.
Mid February to Mid April—Mann Shwe Settaw Pagoda Festival is held at Mann Shwe Sattaw Pagoda in Magway Division in Upper Myanmar. It is 36 miles from Magwe. People from the entire nation engage in pilgrimages to the Pagoda but the Pagoda is mostly crowded within the festival time which is from the mid February to mid April. At Mann Shwe Sattaw Pagoda. you will find the upper Sattawyar. the footprint of lord Buddha on the hill and the lower Sattawyar. another footprint of the Buddha at the foot of the same hill. Being one of the greatly venerated shrines, and also because Magwe lies midway between the upcountry and the lower parts, its annual festival has served as a great fair for the exchange of local goods. The festival is held on the fifth waxing moon of the Myanmar calendar month, Tabodwe (February and March) annually.
February, March—Mahamuni Pagoda Festival in Mandalay, Myanmar falls on the full moon day of Thabodwe. This festival usually lasts for two days. Glutinous rice (which is a delicacy) contests are also held on the pagoda's platform. A variety of incense sticks are burnt for the Myanmar Buddha image on the full moon day. During this festival thousands of people from all over the country make the pilgrimage to the Mahamuni Pagoda. The temple is always the center of activities and during this festival it explodes with energy.
Shwedagon Pagoda Festival inYangon is celebrated on the full moon day of Tabaung (March) every year at Myanmar’s and Yangon’s most famous pagoda. Many people in the country contributes funds for repairing the pagoda and a great number of people pay homage to it every day. During the festival these activities are stepped up. Tthe escalator on the western stairway and the elevators are cleaned. Spires are renovated. Even the canopy is repaired and fixed up. In addition, people pour water on the sacred Bo-tree, there are overnight weaving contest of yellow robes, gold leaves are rubbed on objects and various events are held around the pagoda.
Shwezayan Pagoda Festival in Thaton, Myanmar is a big event. This pagoda is often called Thaton Shwezayan to differentiate it from another Shwezayan between Mandalay and Pyin Oo Lwin. The pagoda as it stands today has a height of 360 feet (110 meters) from base to the finial and by its configuration seems to be quite modern. A number of stone inscriptions, of which five display Old Mon writing, attest to its antiquity. The festival for this Pagoda is held on the 8th waxing day of the month of Dabaung which roughly corresponds to March.
Mid —Songkran Festival in Thailand is a nationwide festival held at the beginning of the old Thai New Year. It is a time of merrymaking and religious observances. Anyone who ventures outside can count on getting thoroughly soaked from buckets of water. The water splashing is all done in the spirit of good fun and is welcome relief because April is the peak of the hot season. Sometimes people are “painted white” aby being doused in a mixture of water and talcum powder. Water throwing is especially big on the first day of the festival. Other activities include early morning alms-giving to monks, bathing Buddha images, giving gifts to local temples, paying respects to elders and receiving a blessing in return, smearing white powder on their faces as symbols of purity.
Mid April—Thingyan , a four day festival that ushers in the Burmese New Year, is the biggest holiday of the year in Myanmar. It usually begins around April 13th. In the cities and towns, makeshift pavilions with stages for singing and dancing are erected, and barrels are filled with water. Young people dance and sing on the stages and throw water on anyone who passes by. It is believed that being drenched with Thingyan water washes away one’s sin and bad luck. Decorative floats may also take part in processions. Originally a quiet medieval ritual that marked the beginning of the monsoon season, Thingyan today is celebrated today in Yangon by youths in American clothes who go around dousing people with water splashed from buckets and hoses. Thingyan is closely associated with the start of the annual rainy season. In Myanmar, India and Southeast and South Asia in general, where rain is associated with happiness and good times. This contrast with West where rain is often associated rain with gloomy days.
Beginning on a date marked by the Burmese lunar calendar, Thingyan begins quietly enough on the morning of the first day, when people visit temples and pour water over Buddhist statues and wash them. Then all hell breaks loose. For the rest of the day people run around with buckets and basins splashing and throwing water on one another. Splashing water is believed to cleanse the mind and body of evil spirits. Some people go out of their way to get doused, even opening the windows of their cars when passing a dousing area. Young men have traditionally doused girls they liked and used the dousing as an excuse to strike up a conversation.
The entire New Year holiday last for four days. The first day is a holiday for children. Thingyan covers the last three days. The period leading to the holiday is a time when people perform good deeds to gain merit. To gain merit people set cattle, birds, crabs and fish free. People buy them from shops and say, “You are free to go wherever you want now” when they are released and the reflect on what it is like to be captured. At night there are dance and music performances. Street stalls offer traditional delicacies such as mond lan yey paw (dumplings made from glutinous rice stuffed with palm sugar) and kawt nyin paung (rice cakes filled with red beans). With the exception of these treats there really isn’t the array of foods associated with Thingyan that you find in other countries on their main holidays. Most people have home-cooked family favorites, usually the children’s favorite foods. In Yangon, major streets are lined with dozens of elaborately decorated wooden water-throwing stands, or pandals. Many of these are clustered around Inya Lake. Pandals sponsored by Western companies like Total and Elf and Schlumberger blast out hip hop music. Ones sponsored by beer brewers and cigarette companies advertise their products.
The second, third and forth days of Thingyan are quieter. People eat special meals, visit friends and relatives, visit the tombs of their ancestors, and give food and alms to monks. Children pay respects to their parents, teachers and elders. Many people welcome the New Year by cleaning the floors of pagodas and monasteries; washing old peoples' hair with "Tayaw" (acacia) shampoo and helping them cut them their nails. Some offer free food and drinks for everyone who visits the pagodas. Some make other donations.
Thingyan is celebrated through Southeast Asia arund the same time of the year. It is called Songkran in Thailand, Chaul Chnam Thmey in Cambodia and Pimai in Laos. Throughout the region this water festival is popular, raucous and colorful celebration in which people abandon any thoughts of work—bringing their nations to a standstill—and concentrate on playing around and having fun. On top of the water dousing, people get together and socialize, visit pagodas, make offerings and pay homage to monks, play traditional games and celebrate life with their joyous spirit.
Tagu is the first month of the Myanmar calendar and usually it falls in March and April on the Gregorian calendar. "Thingyan"- Myanmar New Year Festival is held in Tagu, generally it falls on April 13th. Thingyan has been held since the Tagaung Period but it became more prominent in the Era of Pagan Dynasty. As water symbolizes coolness, purity and cleanliness, pouring or throwing water on someone cleans off all the dirt and grime of the old year and brings coolness, purity and peace for the new year.
Mid April—Bun Pimai is a week-long festival that marks the beginning Buddhist and Lao New Year. The biggest holiday of the year in Laos and regarded as time when people look back on the old year and welcome the new year by honoring Buddha and spending time with family, it is ushered in with a water dousing festival similar to ones held in Thailand and Myanmar. Wear old clothes because anybody and everybody is fair game. Buckets, basin and barrels all are used to dump water, which is supposed purify the soul and wash away bad spirits. In the past revelers also tossed dyes, pastes, flours, smelly substances, and sticky, brightly colored tapioca. In the mid-1990s the tossing of anything other than water or perfumed water was discouraged.At Buddhist temples holy water perfumed with frangipini flowers is gently sprinkled on Buddhist statues and captured fish, birds and turtles are released by devotees to earn merit. There are also colorful processions and other elaborate rituals.
On Meu Nao Monday it is forbidden to work or sleep (those that break this superstition are supposed to work every day of the new year or they risk having health problems). Instead, people attend a two-hour procession with seven beauty queens pulled in colorful carts and columns of umbrella-carrying monks who are doused in water as they file past spectators. The girls represent the seven daughters of an ancient god-king.The festival ends with traditional baci banquets attended by family friends and neighbors. People usually attend several baci and eat and drink heavily at each one. At these gathering bocci (strings of cotton) are tied around the wrists of friends and relatives to wish them good health, prosperity and longevity. In Khammouane Province the celebration features the Nang Sangkhan Parade and many days of festive water splashing and house-warming parties.
The best Pimai festival is said to be in Luang Prabang, where there are traditional processions and many other events. Here people consume large amounts of lao lao (rice moonshine); women color men's faces with soot and lipstick; and people leap into the Mekong River from canoes. For some events people dress in traditional clothes. There is a colorful parade with people wearing traditional Lao costumes accompanied by music. There is a procession of the sacred Prabang Buddha image, and the Miss New Year beauty contest. In Savannakhet Town, there is a beauty contest to select Miss New Year, who is paraded through the city atop a float shaped like a bird or animal. The float’s design changes from year to year.
May—Visakha Buja in Laos is considered the day of Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death. Buddhists this day by holding candle-light processions in which devotees circle temples three times. It falls on the 15th day of the waxing moon in the sixth lunar month and is also features chanting and making offerings.During the day people listen to sermons at local temples and during the night candlelight processions are held around important wats. It's also a time to pay respects to ancestors.
May—Vesak Full Moon in Sri Lanka is a thrice blessed day for Buddhist through the world. It commemorated the birth of Prince Siddhartha, his attaining enlightenment and his passing away into nirvana as Buddha. It is day of sacred ceremonies and charity. Temples bells wake up the faithful at dawn. Pilgrims dressed in white spend the day mediating and listening to chanting monks. Wayside stalls distribute food and refreshments to pilgrims. There are festivities with colorful decorations, pandals, puppet shows, open-ar dramas and pageants. Many temples hold night time procession with illuminated lanterns.
Late April, May—Kasone Festival in Myanmar celebrates the day that Buddha was born, received enlightenment and went to heaven. All over Myanmar, trees are blessed with holy water and candle light processions and other rituals are performed at temples. This festival is celebrated on the full moon day of the lunar month of Kason according to the Myanmar calendar. Kason is the second Myanmar month and a sacred month for Myanmar Buddhists. Kason is the last period of scorching summer season, so it is very hot. The main activity on this festival day is pouring water at the Bodhi Tree. Pouring clean and cool water on the Bodhi Tree is done as a symbol of veneration to the Buddha who attained Enlightenment by meditating under the Bodhi Tree.
The Kasone Festival usually falls in May. As Buddha had attained Enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi tree, the grounds of pagodas and monasteries are planted with many such trees. On this day, people carry earthenware pots filled with water and water the Bodhi trees. Processions are also held in temple grounds. As the month of Kason is at the height of the hot reason, the earth is dry and people pour water at the Maha-Bodhi tree to make sure it does not die of drought during the hot summer. This has become an integral part of Myanmar culture and on every full-moon day of Kason, Buddhists march in a grand procession to the Bodhi tree or to the pagodas to pour scented water.
Early June—Visakha Puja in Thailand is a nationwide festival that marks the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha. During the day people listen to sermons at local temples and during the night candlelight processions are held around important wats.
June—Poson Full Moon commemorates the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century B.C. and 1993 was the 2,300th anniversary. The day is celebrated with religious observances. The center of the celebration are Mihintale (six miles from Anurdhapura), where Buddhist doctrine was first preached by Arahat Mahinda, son of the great Emperor Asoka of India. A number of parades with illuminations and decoration are held in various parts of the island. Thousands of white-clad pilgrims climb the steps to the summit of Mihintale.
Usually in June— Pariyatti Sasana Examination in Myanmar are Buddhist examinations usually held during the month of Na Yone (June). Since the time of the Myanmar Kings, religious examinations—which included a written test and oral test— for the novices and monks have been held in the court yards of temples. Nayon is the third month in the Myanmar calendar. Pariyatti Sasana, the practice of holding examinations in religious scriptures in Nayon, began in the second Innwa period, when King Thalun reigned. Nowadays, the State sponsored Examination are held every year for Pahtamabyan, Dhamma Cariya, Abhidhama, Visudi Magga and Tipitaka .Titles, certificates and prizes are conferred on the Sayadaw, revered monks and nuns. A commemoration of Lord Buddha's preaching of Maha Samaya Sutta to celestial beings from ten thousand solar systems, is also observed in this month .
July to October—Buddhist Lent
July to October—Boun Khao Watsa is the Buddhist equivalent of Lent. Held during the rainy season, it is a time when Buddhists try to live like monks and monks study harder. Monks are required to stay at one wat and not allowed to wander around the countryside. All monks stop traveling and stay at temple for prayer and meditation. It's also time for ordination of men entering a monkhood.
June, July—Waso Festival marks the beginning of the Buddhist equivalent of Lent. Buddhists give robes to monks and people gather flowers to leave at temples as offerings. Monks study harder. Many people who are not monks act like monks for a period of time. Everybody is generally is more "monklike" in their behavior. Waso falls on the full moon day in June or July. At pagodas. monks are offered free meals and a robe-giving ceremony is performed with pomp and pageantry by disciples. Waso Robe-Offering is performed to commemorate Buddha’s first sermon. The full-moon day of Waso is very significant, because this is the day Buddha was conceived, the day that He renounced worldly pleasures, and the day He preached the first sermon of Dhamma Cakka and the day that He performed the miracles of super natural powers.
Waso falls during the summer rainy seasons. It marks the beginning of the Buddhist Lent, a three-month period when members of Sangha go into a rainy season retreat. See Laos. The robes offered to monks are called Waso robes because they are offered in the month of Waso. Offering a robe to a monk is considered a significant and meritorious deed. Also at this time young men and women have traditionally gone on outings to gathering flowers to be offered to Buddha images at pagodas and at homes.
Boun Khoa Phansa in Laos marks s the beginning of the three-month long Buddhist Lent. The beginning of Buddhist Lent is marked with a major ceremony. Asalahaboucha Day and Boun Khao Pansa Festival (Buddhist Lent) are celebrated Vientiane and nationwide.
September, October—Thadingyut Festival (Festival of Lights) in Myanmar marks the end of Buddhist Lent. It lasts for three days and is held around the time of the full moon in October. Celebrating the day that Buddha's spirit returned to earth, it is marked with the lighting of oil lanterns, candles and electric lights at night and the performing of meritorious deeds at pagodas. Special fire balloons are sent into the sky, and people dance, party and have a good time. The three day lights festival is held on the day before full moon, the full moon day and the day after. Illuminations celebrate the anniversary of Buddha's return from the celestial abode where He had spent Lent teaching the celestials about His Law. Among the gods was the one who was the mother of Buddha reborn there. It was on the full moon day of Thadingyut month that Buddha descended to the abode of humans. He and His disciples were attended by a heavenly host of celestials who created a pathway with star ladder. Buddhist on earth illuminate their homes and streets to welcome Buddha and His disciples. In Taunggyi a hot-air balloon competition is held in which people flock to the fields and watch hot-air balloon of various sizes, shapes and colors float into the sky. At night balloons are launched with fireworks, dangling lights, parachutes lanterns, banners and streamers attached to them. Ozi and dohbat music is played.
The full-moon day of Thadingyut (usually in October) marks the descent of Buddha from Tavadinsa or the abode of devas. Around this time, pagodas, buildings, public parks and houses are decorated with strings of electric lights, oil lanterns and candles, and young people pay respect to their elders by offering them gifts of fruits, cakes or pieces of textiles. Mahamuni temple in Sittwe celebrates an annual lighting festival at the end of Buddhist Lent which usually falls in the month of October and November.
Thadingyut occurs towards the end of rainy season. Lord Gautama Buddha preached The Abhidamma to His reincarnated mother in Tavatimsa,abode of celestial beings, for three Lenten months and returned to the abode of men on the full- moon day of Thadingyut . The King of the celestials created three stairways, gold, silver and ruby for him. Buddha took the middle ruby stairways radiating six hues of aura. The celestials came along by the right gold stairways and the brahmas by the left silver stairways . On account of that, Myanmar Buddhists celebrate Tavatimsa Festival on the full-moon day of Thadingyut by lighting multi-colored illuminations. For the Sangha it is the time known as Pawayana, which means inviting, entreating, urging. In practice, since the times of the Buddha, it is a time for monks to implore one another for forgiveness of any deed that might have displeased any other members of the Sangha. Like wise, there is also the practice among the laity of paying respects to parents and elders.
September, October—Food Offering Ceremony in Myanmar is held at the end of Buddhist Lent in conjunction with the Thadingyut light festival. According to traditions, there are many different ways of offering food to the Lord Buddha. Among them is the annual food offering ceremony in Shwekyin Township, Bago Division held on the full-moon day of Thadingyut. Devotees offer fruits, food, flowers, water and light at Ashae Maha Buddha Pagoda early in the morning at dawn on the full moon's day. Devotees from all round the country perform meritorious deeds such as offering food to Buddha. The Shan of Shwekyin at Alai Paing and Zawtika villages float Thadingyut oil lamps down Shwekyin creek, make traditional food offerings in pagodas and monasteries and plant flags after paying respects to Buddha. At the festival, the Shan celebrate with mythical bird and the Keinnayi Keinnaya dances, Shan traditional martial arts, Tonaya dances and dances by Shan women with Shan long drums strapped on their shoulders.
October—Boun Ok Watsa marks in Laos the end of Buddhist Lent. It is celebrated in the morning with visits to temples and offerings to monks. Monks are allowed to wander around the countryside once again. In the evening people light candles in front of their houses, participate in candle-light processions and launch tiny boats made of banana leaves, flowers and candles into rivers and lakes. The Bun Nam (Water Festival) held in conjunction with Boun Ok Watsu features boat races,
Boun Ok Phansa and Boat Racing Festival in Vientiane, Laos marks the end of Buddhist Lent. In the evening there is the lighting of candles in and around the temples and the lovely ceremony of Lai Hua Fai or fireboats, where small "boats" made of sections of banana tree trunks decorated with flowers, and lit candles are floated down the nearest river. It is believed these small boats will take away any bad luck and bring good luck. Boat Racing Festival is celebrated along the rivers all around the country, although not always on the same day, and involves boat races in traditional racing boats. Vientiane Boat Racing Festival is huge and the town shuts down as food stalls and games and fairs take over the riverfront. In Khammouane Province Boun Souang Heua (boat racing festival) is colorful event tha marks the start of the festival season. In Thakhek, the boat racing festival is a major event and very colorful and competitive. Boat races are held on the Mekong River with teams from Thailand and other Lao provinces competing,
That Inhang Festival is held in Laos in early October on the grounds of the That Inhang stupa, located just outside the town of Savannakhet. It and includes parades, music, dancing and an international trade fair of products from Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. On the first day at dawn, donation and offerings are made at temples around the city. In the evening, candlelight processions are held around the temples and hundred of colorful floats decorated with flower, incense and candle are set adrift down the Mekong river in thanksgiving to the river spirit. The next day, a popular and exciting boat racing competition is held on the Mekong river.
The festival marks the end of the monks' three-month-fast and retreat during the rainy season. At dawn, donation and offerings are made at the temples. Prayers are chanted by the monks, and at dusk candlelight procession wind round the temples. Concurrently, hundreds of decorated candlelit-floats, made of paper, are set adrift in the rivers. These carry offerings and incense, transforming the river into a fragrant snake of sparkling.
In late October, early November— Chak Phra and Thot Phapa Festival in Surat Thani, Thailand is a Buddhist celebration (Chak Phra) in which saffron robes are offered to monks and money is donated to temples to mark the end of the Buddhist Rains Retreat. Thot Phapa is celebrated with Buddhist images carried by local people on elaborately-carved floats and then set adrift during a water-borne procession.
In late October the Illuminated Boat Procession is held at the end of the Buddhist Rain Retreats in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. The intricately decorated little boats are set adrift at nightfall with a candle placed inside them. Various entertainments are also provided in the town during the festival. The Wax Castle and Boat Racing Festival is held in Sakon Nakhon during the annual Buddhist Rains Retreat. Miniature Buddhist temples constructed of beeswax are constructed for merit-making purposes, and then are paraded around town and finally presented at the temples. After this is a wild boat race.
October, November—Yellow Robe Weaving Festival (Tazaungmon) is an auspicious time for offering of yellow robes to the monks. According to Burmese lore, the Buddha’s mother, reincarnated as a god in Tavatimsa (abode of celestial beings), perceived from her heavenly perch that her son would soon be discarding his royal robes and start wearing a monk’s garments. She wanted to provide the yellow robes of the monk but she had only a night’s time to do it. So, in a single night, she wove a yellow robe and had it delivered to the Prince (Siddhata) by a celestial messenger. In commemoration of this event weaving competitions of yellow robes are held all over the country.
The Kahtein Festival is held between the Full Moon Day of Thadingyut and the Full Moon Day of Tazaungmone. The Kahtein robe offering and donation of Kahtein tree or the Padaytharpin are the biggest events in Tazaungmone. An offering of Kathein thingan (ceremony for offering of yellow robes) to the monks is an especially big affair in large cities when a thousand and one gifts are pooled by the whole town beside the prime gift of Yellow robes. The Myanmar month of Tazaungmone corresponds to either October or November. The Kahtein Robe-Offering is similar to the Waso Robe-Offering. Tazaungmone is celebrated with all- night robe-weaving contests. The finished robes . which must be completed before daylight. are offered to Buddha images in the pagodas. The offerings of monk's robes for a Buddhist, particularly a Kathina robe, is regarded as particularly meritorious, as the monk who receives this robe was chosen in accordance with the unanimous decision of Sangha after the plenary session of Sangha were held.
Tazaungmone in October and November is the eighth Myanmar month. It is a time for the offerings of Kathina, Matho Thingan and Panthagu and offerings of lotuses and lights. There is also a practice of eating salads of Mezali leaves with the belief that it is medicinal if it is eaten at a special time: at mid- night on the full-moon day of Tazaungmon . On the full moon day of Tazaungmone people usually eat vegetable curry. It is believed the bitter Maezali bud salad will free you from all diseases. Stemming from that belief, people usually prepare Maezali bud salads and share it with friends. To prepare Mezali salad, first you will have to choose tender buds with nine 9 baskets, clean and rinse them and then boil them until they becomes soft and tender. Then it is necessary to pound them until they become pasty. Then you mix the paste with peanut oil, pounded peanuts, fried onions. beansm fried Dahl, sesame , cabbage, green chilis and salt to taste. It is a vegetarian dish which Myanmars adore.
November, December— Full Moon Day of Tazaungmone usually falls in November. Tazaungmone is regarded as the time when the rainy season ends and winter comes in. On the night of full moon day of Tazaungmone, 9,999 candles ate lighted and offered to Koehtatkyi Pagoda in SanChaung Township, Yangon Division. On this e auspicious night, expression ‘Atula Dipati Mahamuni Thetkya Koehtetgyi Badhha’ if said. It means you will be blessed with the number 9, which the Burmese call Koenawin. It is a good omen which means “free of enemies and diseases.”People light of 9,999 candles around the pagoda and draw lots to get the best place.
At designated places groups start to prepare for the festival at 2:00pm. At 4:00pm musicians play traditional harps and offer music to the Buddha. In the evening at about 5:22pm. the grand ceremony commences. All those present first take the five precepts and say the prayers for offering in unison. At 6:09 exactly, the Master of Ceremonies gives people 11 minutes to take up position. Before long, the sound of Aka Ratu appears. All electric bulbs are put out on the pagoda and people started to pray and recite partitas. At the auspicious hour, a conch shell is blown and later brass gongs and bells are rung simultaneously. Together with these auspicious sounds fire works are set off from either side of the throne of the pagoda. At the same time as this the lights of the candle appear and great blanket of light is produced. It is a breath-taking site when all those present light candles and offer them to the great Buddha image. Fire crackers known as Ta Zaung in olden days are set off. Since they are placed atop the pole and lighted Burmese call them it Tazaung Daing. During Tazaungdaing festivals of spirits are also held.
November, December—Tazaungdaing Festival is a second Festival of Lights. More lights and candles are lit at this festival, which features an all night weaving competition at Shwedagon Pagoda. Held on a full moon usually in December, the festival features a ceremony in which robes woven in a day are offered to monks and images of Buddha.
December 28th—Sangamitta Day (Unduvap Full Moon) marks the historic event of bringing to Sri Lanka the right branch of the sacred Bodhi Tree under which Guathama Buddha attained enlightenment in India. The branch of the Bodhi tree was brought by Arahat Theri Sangamitta, sister of Arahat mahinda and daughter of Emperor Asoka. The branch was planted in the Royal gardens at Anuradhapura by King Evanampiyatissa who was ruling the island at that time. This tree still flourishes in the sacred city of Anuradhapura and is considered to be the oldest recorded tree in the world.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.
Last updated April 2014