Poi Sang Festival in Mae Hong Son, Thailand celebrates the ordination of novice monks

In Buddhism, there is no equivalent of a Sabbath—a special day of the week for acting particularly religious. Followers visit temples whenever the feel like it, particularly when they want to pray for something in particular, during festivals and holidays or on auspicious days defined by the lunar calendar (notably on full, new and quarter moons, which occur roughly every seven days).

Many important holidays are celebrated during the full moon. New Year in Buddhist country in Southeast Asia is celebrated in early April with water throwing festivals, which mark the start of the monsoon season and have little to do with Buddhism. In Myanmar, Full Moon Days on the traditional lunar calender 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.

The main Buddhist holidays are: 1) Nirvana Day, in mid-February, commemorating the death of The Buddha; 2) Wesak, Buddha's Birthday, in April or May, which according to some traditions celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death; 3) Khao Pansa, typically July, marks the beginning of the Buddhist Lent. In some countries it is the preferred day for Buddhist men to be ordained as monks. It is celebrated at the Full Moon of the eight lunar month. 4) Boun Ok Pansa marks the end of Lent. It is at the end of the rainy season, in October. 5) Bodhi Day, in early December, celebrates the Buddha's Enlightenment in 596 B.C. Buddhists also have many local holidays that vary from country to country. Often they are often in sync with the phases of the moon, and therefore, they vary from year to year.

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

Buddhist Calendar

The Buddhist Calendar began on the day of the death and Nirvana of Buddha in 544 B.C. The year 2007 was the Buddhist year 2550. The year 2017 was the Buddhist year 2560. The Theravada Buddhist calendar is a basic luni-solar calendar, much like the traditional Chinese calendars. Using its own names for months, holidays, and even cycles of years, it consists of 12 months which alternate between 29 and 30 days. As is true with the Muslim lunar calendar each year lose 11 days in relation to the the Gregorian calendar and the sun's cycle of equinoxes and solstices. To help keep the calendar in sync with the sun, the Buddhist calendar inserts a leap month of 30 days every third year.

Thai Buddlist lunar-solar calendar for August 2004

Each month on the Buddhist Calendar is divided into two two-week periods. The first (light) period strats the day after the New Moon of the previous month and ends with the Full Moon. The second (dark ) period begins the day after the Full Moon and ends with the New Moon day, which is the last day of the lunar month. The eighth day of each two-week period coincides with the First Quarter and Last Quarter moons, respectively. [Source: astraltraveler.com]

These four important moon days — new moon, first quarter moon, full moon and last quarter moon — are known as Uposatha days. In Theravada Buddhist areas these days are observed with enhanced attention to the Dharma (Buddhist teachings). Lay devotees often visit temples or monasteries, make sure they observe the Eight Precepts, and spend time meditating or listening to, discussing or reading about the Dharma. The observation of Uposatha days predates Buddhism. In ancient India, the four main days of the lunar cycle were reserved for special religious practices.

Burmese Calendar

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 a months after the New Year in other Asian countries, which usually celebrate their traditional New Year in mid February. 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.

Burmese 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 until 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. +

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. +

Cambodian Buddhist calendar

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. +

Buddha’s Birthday

Buddha's birthday is celebrated in many Asian countries. In some places it is observed on the eighth day of the forth lunar month (usually late April or early May). In other places it is celebrated on the full moon of the ancient lunar month of Vesakha (May, or early June). Depending on the place it is celebrated with lantern parades, tolling of temple bells, deep bows before images of Buddha, monks chanting scriptures to the beat of wooden gongs, processions around pagodas, crowds chanting for peace and praising Buddha, and displays of lanterns hung inside and outside of temples. In Japan, Buddha's Birthday or Hana Matsuri is celebrated on April 8th at all Buddhist temples by devotees placing flowers in the temples and sometimes pouring tea on Buddha's head.

Vesak (Buddha's Birthday) in Korea

Koreans celebrate Buddha's birthday on the eighth day of the forth lunar month (usually late April or early May) by making lotus lanterns, a custom that reportedly dates back to the 7th century. Shaped like lotuses, the Buddhist symbol of self-development, the lanterns carry a candle, which represents wisdom, and the dispelling of ignorance and darkness. Silk lanterns are made in the shape of watermelons, carp, turtles, bells and supernatural things. On the night of Buddha's birthday the colored lanterns are set up at Buddhist temples all over South Korea and lit up. A lantern parade is held in the evening at Youido Plaza in Seoul. Buddhist followers carrying lanterns of different colors circle a temple three time and then stand around a temple. The view looking down on the festival from the nearby buildings and hills is magical. Statues of Buddha are also bathed on this day.

In Southeast Asian, Theravada Buddhist countries Buddha’s birthday is called Vesak, Wesak or Buddha Day. Regarded as the most important Buddhist festival, it is celebrated annually on the full moon of the ancient lunar month of Vesakha, which usually falls in May, or in early June.In some places, Wesak marks only The Buddha’s birthday. In other places, Wesak marks only Buddha’s birthday, death and enlightenment

Wesak: Buddha’s Birthday in Southeast Asia

According to the BBC: “ At Vesak Buddhists commemorate the birth of the Buddha-to-be, Siddhattha Gotama, his Enlightenment at the age of 35 when he became the Buddha and his final 'passing' into Nirvana at the age of 80, no more to be reborn. Buddhist scriptures relate that each of these three significant events occurred on a full moon of the Indian lunar month of Vesakha. Traditionally, his birth is supposed to have been in 623 BC but the Buddhist calendar is counted from his final passing, eighty years later. The older tradition of Vesak is to celebrate all three events but there are some more recent Buddhist schools and groups that celebrate just the birth and others only the Enlightenment. [Source: BBC |::|]

“In Buddhism, death is not the end of life; it teaches rebirth and differentiates it from reincarnation because Buddhism does not recognise a self or soul that is continually reappearing in a new form. Death for the unenlightened, whose minds are still infected with desire, is followed by yet another life. But for the Enlightened who have extinguished all desire, including the desire to be born again, there is no more rebirth. So Buddhists don't usually refer to the Buddha's death but to his passing, into Nibbana or Nirvana. Only by passing into Nirvana can a person end the cycle of death and re-birth. The Buddha achieved the state of nirvana and this is celebrated on Vesak. |::|

Vesak in Sri Lanka

“There are some cultural and local differences in how the various Buddhist groups and nations celebrate Vesak, but broadly speaking devout Buddhists will try to attend their local temple for at least part of the day, while some remain there throughout the day and night of the full moon. The celebration will include the practices of Giving, Virtue and Cultivation and the doing of good and meritorious deeds. Giving usually involves bringing food to offer and share, as well as supplies for the temple and symbolic offerings for the shrine. Virtue is observed by reaffirming commitment to the moral precepts. Cultivation can include chanting, meditation and listening to sermons.” |::|

Kasone Festival: Buddha’s Birthday in Myanmar

The Kasone Festival in late April or early May 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.

Sangha Day

Sangha Day — also known as Fourfold Assembly or Magha Puja Day — is the second most important Buddhist festival. Observed by most Threravada Buddhists on the first full moon day of the third lunar month, usually some time in February or March, it is a major uposatha or holy day. The Pali word sangha (in Sanskrit, samgha) means "community" or "assembly," and usually refers to monks in the monastic communities, although it can refer to all Buddhists, lay or monastic.

Bun Vat Phu in Laos

According to the BBC: “Sangha Day commemorates the spontaneous gathering of 1,250 enlightened monks (arahants) to hear the Buddha preach at Veluvana Vihara. At this gathering, the Buddha gave his first sermon, or recitation of the Patimokkha (the rules and regulations of the monastic order). It is a celebration in honour of the Sangha, or the Buddhist community. For some Buddhists Sangha refers only to monks and nuns. It is a chance for people to reaffirm their commitment to Buddhist practices and traditions. [Source: BBC |::|]

On Sangha Day Buddhists celebrate both the ideal of creating a spiritual community, and also the actual spiritual community which they are trying to create. The Sangha is precious in Buddhism as without those in the community to look up to or share aspirations with, the spiritual life would be very challenging. Sangha Day is a traditional time for exchange of gifts; it has become a prominent festival among Western Buddhists even though it is less well known in the East. Celebrations vary, but can include chanting, meditation, the lighting of oil lamps, and the reaffirmation of people's commitment to Buddhist practice.

Buddhist Lent in Laos

Buddhist Lent, which lasts from July until October, is a three-month period when members of Sangha (Buddhist monks) go into a rainy season retreat. During this "rains retreat" Buddhist monks are expected to stay in their own temple to study the Buddha’s teaching as well as meditating. They are not allowed to travel anywhere or revert to being laymen. [Source: Laos-Guide-999.com ==]

According to legend Buddha’s followers did not stop their wandering during the rainy season and people began to complain that they were trampling on the rice fields and worried they might damage seedlings or small creatures in the fields. When the Buddha heard these worries he forbade the monks to leave their temples for three months. ==

During this time devout people often abstain from alcohol. They pray for assistance and guidance to encourage merit and happiness in their lives. It encourages them to follow the five major Buddhist precepts: don’t kill animals; don’t steal or engage in corrupt acts; don’t commit adultery; don’t lie; and avoid drinking alcohol. Many take time away from work to make merit for deceased relatives. They also offer robes to the monks. ==

Buddhist Lent

During this three month Buddhist lent monks and novices can't leave their monasteries to become lay people. Traditionally lay people have not been allowed to get married until the end of the Buddist Lent period. Lent ends on the full moon in October with the Kathin ceremony when monks receive gifts. The months of Buddhist Lent are the most usual time for the ordination of young men, who enter the monkhood for short periods before they marry and are marked by numerous ordination ceremonies. ==

Festival That Mark the Beginning of Buddhist Lent in Laos

Boun Khao Phansa marks the beginning of Buddhist Lent in Laos. Early the morning of Boun Khao Phansa people prepare donations of food (particularly khaotom, rice, banana or pork wrapped in banana leaves) and necessities like soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes and towels for the monks. Most temples are very busy during this time with people making merit and giving their donations. At the end of these merit-making activities the monks will recite the teachings of Buddha and tell the history of Lent to temple goers. Later in the evening monks, novices and laypeople bring flowers and candles and walk around the central temple three times. [Source: Laos-Guide-999.com ==] The Waso Festival in Myanmar in June or July marks the beginning of Buddhist Lent there. 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 is the fourth month on the in Myanmar calendar. It falls during the summer rainy seasons. 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.


Thailand's Prime Minister offering a Kathina robe

Kathina marks the end of Buddhist Lent. According to the BBC: “The Kathina festival, which originated 2,500 years ago, celebrates the largest alms-giving ceremony of the Buddhist year. It occurs at the end of the Vassa, or monsoon, period, in October and November. During the Vassa period, normally nomadic Buddhist monks will have remained in one place for three months, and the Kathina celebration marks the time for them to move on. The festival also celebrates the offerings of cloth that are given to the monks upon their leaving by the lay people. The offering can take place up to one month following the end of the Vassa period, from 19th October to 16 November, and is celebrated by buddhists of the Theravada tradition. [Source: BBC |::|]

“According to the scriptures, a group of thirty monks were journeying together with the intention of spending the Vassa period with the Lord Buddha, but the Vassa began before they reached their destination and so they had to stop. The monks were upset that they were unable to be with Buddha, who later heard of their plight. As a reward Buddha gave some cloth, which he had acquired as a gift from one of the lay community, to the monks and told them to sew a robe and then bestow it upon one of their company. The Buddha said that there was nothing as uplifting as generosity and sharing, and so the monks set about sewing a new set of robes. They used a frame, called a Kathina, on which to spread the cloth as they were making it. |::|

“Lay supporters now continue this tradition at the end of the Vassa. The cloth giving is a gift of the followers of Buddhism, and therefore no monk is allowed to request or organise the festival. The cloth, according to Buddha, must be offered to the whole Sangha community, who will then decide among themselves who receives the gift. Buddhist families take joy in offering cloth to their teachers. About three metres of cloth is all that is needed, but very often other items are offered as well. On the day of the festival, people begin to arrive at the monastery and begin by sharing a meal. At about 1 o clock, they will formally offer the cloth and other gifts. |::|

Bun Vat Phu in Laos

“Two monks will be presented with the cloth on behalf of the whole Sangha community. These monks will then formally announce the member of the community who will receive the cloth once it has been made up. The monks will spend much of the night preparing and cutting the cloth, and finally sewing it together to form a robe. The formal Sangha act (Sangha Kamma) of presenting the cloth to the chosen monk may take place much later in the evening, when it is ceremonially presented to the nominated monk.” |::|

Boun Awk Phansa: End of Buddhist Lent in Laos

Boun Awk Phansa marks the last day of the Buddhist Lent in Laos. It occurs in October, three lunar months after Khao Phansa on the 15th day of the 11th month of the lunar calendar. It is a day of many celebrations, most notably the boat race festival held in Vientiane. On the first day at dawn, donations and offerings are made at temples around the country; in the evening, candlelight processions are held around the temples and it is the celebration of lai heua fai or Loi ka thong, when everyone sends small lighted ‘boats’ made of banana stems or banana leaves decorated with candles and flowers down the rivers. [Source: Laos-Guide-999.com ==]

These are said to pay respect to the Buddha and to thank the mother of rivers for providing water for our lives. Some believe that the lai heua fai procession is an act to pay respect to nagas that lives in the rivers, while others send the lighted boats down the river to ask for blessing and to float bad luck of the past year away enabling the good luck to flow in. Most towns with a river bank nearby will engage in this lovely ceremony. In bigger towns there are also processions of lighted boats, and the ceremony is more popular especially among young romantic couples. Villagers who live far from rivers set up model boats (made of banana stems) decorated with flowers and candlelight, while others simply light up some candles in front of their houses and do their little prayer wishing for good luck. This colorful rituals have been carried on by Lao people for thousands of years. ==

Bun Vat Phu lantern in Laos

In addition, the evening before the boat race is the day the celebrated Naga fireballs are supposed to appear. The Naga fireballs are a phenomenon peculiar to the Mekong. The Naga is a mythical water dragon believed to live in the Mekong and on the night of 15th day of 11th month in the Lao lunar calendar at the end of Buddhist Lent he is supposed to shoot up pink-red fireballs to signify the occasion. Some believe, while others doubt they are real. Still today there is a festival surrounding this time and certain areas of both the Thai and Lao sides of the river are packed out with willing sightseers, who also take the time to enjoy the multitude of food and drink stands which spring up to cater for them during their wait. ==

This extraordinary phenomenon occurs in the area of the Mekong River stretching over 20km between Pak-Ngeum district, about 80km south of the Lao capital Vientiane, and Phonephisai district in Nong Khai province, Thailand. On the Lao side, some people say they can see the fireballs floating in the area of the ponds and rice fields near their villages. On the Thai side, the fireball shoots up in a pond locally known as Nong Pra Lay, residents say. In Laos you can hire a taxi or truck to take you and from the site, but be prepared for traffic jams and crowds. ==

The day of the boat racing festival in Vientiane is spectacular. This year (2010), the Boun Awk Phansa day (the day the Buddhist lent ends) falls on the 23th October and the Vientiane boat racing day is on the 24th. The town comes alive with noise and festivity as the teams make their way to the river either by truck or walking, banging drums and singing. The races start around 9am when the heats kick off. Thousands of spectators cram along the river banks and cheer their teams. The streets are lined with food stalls, sideshows where you can win small prizes and stalls selling all manner of clothes and other items. The final happens around mid-afternoon, by which time everyone is normally quite merry. ==

Thadingyut: End of Buddhist Lent in Myanmar


The Thadingyut Festival (Festival of Lights) in September or October 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.

Thadingyut is the seventh month on Burmese calendar and the end of Lent. 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. In the town of Kyaukse (26 miles south of Mandalay) and other town in other parts of the country, Thadingyut is celebrated with colorful parades with life-size white paper elephants carrying replicas of the tooth of Buddha on their back. The white elephants are decked out in ornaments. There are also dancing black elephants. Each paper elephant has two men inside.

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. In Myanmar, the "Food Offering Ceremony" 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.

Light Festival in Myanmar


Parinirvana is a Mahayana Buddhist festival that marks the death of the Buddha. It is also known as Nirvana Day. According to the BBC: “ Buddhists celebrate the death of the Buddha, because they believe that having attained Enlightenment he achieved freedom from physical existence and its sufferings. The Buddha's death came when he was eighty years old, and had spent forty years teaching after his Enlightenment. He died in a state of meditation, and attained nirvana, a release from the cycle of death and rebirth. [Source: BBC |::|]

“The Parinirvana Sutta describes the Buddha's last days, and passages from it are often read on Parinirvana Day. Buddhists celebrate Parinirvana Day by meditating or by going to Buddhist temples or monasteries. As with other Buddhist festivals, celebrations vary throughout the world. In monasteries Parinirvana Day is treated as a social occasion. Food is prepared and some people bring presents such as money, household goods or clothes. |::|

“The day is used as an opportunity to reflect on the fact of one's own future death, and on friends or relations who have recently passed away. The idea that all things are transient is central to Buddhist teaching. Loss and impermanence are things to be accepted rather than causes of grief. Meditations are carried out for the newly deceased to give them help and support wherever they might be now. |::|


Losar is Tibetan New Year. It is set according to the Tibetan calendar, and is usually around the same time or a couple weeks later than the Chinese New Year. The most important day on the Tibetan calendar, it is celebrated by Tibetans, Mongolians and Tibetan-related people with people tying prayer flags, cooking flour and butter on fires of smoldering evergreens, lighting lamps, making offerings, praying at shrines and monasteries, feasting on special dumplings, socializing, lighting purifying fires with fragrant smoke from juniper, artemisia and other herbs, gambling and drinking large quantities of chang. Celebrations often feature horse racing, lama dancing and offerings to Gods.

monk dancing during Losar

Usually celebrated in mid or late February, Losar begins on the day of a new moon that marks the first day of the first month on the Tibetan calendar. It is called Gyalpo Losar in Tibetan which means “King's New Year”. People dress up in their best clothes, greet each other and go to the monasteries to receive blessings. The period of time differs from 5 to 7 days.

From the beginning of the 12th month of the Tibetan calendar, Tibetans begin to prepare special delicacies for the Tibetan New Year. Drosu chemar, meaning “cereals container”, is a must for Tibetan New Year. In this container foods such as tsampa with the yak butter and roasted wheat seeds are placed. Tibetans dress in their best and cleanest clothes. Festivities last from the 1st day of the new year until the 15th day. The establishment of the Tibetan New Year has close connections with the use of the Tibetan calendar. [Source: Chloe Xin, Tibetravel.org tibettravel.org ]

The first month of Tibetan Calendar is filled with festivals. Celebrations take place almost every day. Losar is the most important one. Depending on a number of factors, Losar can fall as early as mid-January and as late as late March. Some years entire months are deleted from the Tibetan Year due to inauspicious alignments of planets and other factors.

According to the BBC: Losar “is also a time for Tibetans to visit monasteries and make offerings. Losar is marked with activities that symbolise purification, and welcoming in the new. Buildings are whitewashed and thoroughly cleaned, people wear new clothes and special food is prepared. Buddhist monks adorn the monasteries with the finest decorations, and conduct religious ceremonies. Rituals are performed to drive away evil spirits, and people celebrate with feasts and dancing. The festival of Losar can be traced back to the pre-Buddhist period in Tibet. In the times when Tibetans practiced the Bon religion, every winter a festival was held where people offered large quantities of incense to please local spirits and deities. This festival eventually became the annual Buddhist festival we know today.” [Source: BBC |::|]

Burmese Pagoda Festivals

village festival in Sagaing, Myanmar

The Ananda Pagoda Festival in Pagan 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. The 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.

The Mawtinson Pagoda Festival in Pathein on the sea is a well-known festival during the lunar month of Tabodwe (February, March). On the seaside of the Cape is a sandy beach and the revered Pagoda Maw Tin Son. It is very surprising to note that the pagoda is water-logged all the year round except in the days of the annual festival. The seawater is out well beyond the pagoda during the festival and lots of stalls selling local products, seafood, ornaments made of seashells are set up. Lodging houses, built of bamboo for the revelers, mushroom on the beach. Once the festival is over, the water moves up and covers the beach.

Shwedagon Pagoda Festival in Yangon 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.

Kakku Pagoda Festival is held in Shan State on the full moon day of Tabaung (March) which is the last month of the Myanmar lunar calendar. Normally the festival begins two or three days in advance for of the full moon for this is not just a religious festival but also a social occasion. It is a time for all to have fun, exchange news and gossip, and to trade. For younger people it is a time to meet their friends from other villages and find a boyfriend or girlfriend. Shan from all over arrive by the thousands dressed in their traditional costumes. Some come in bullock carts while others arrive by car or village tractor. The most interesting time is just before dawn of the full moon day of Tabaung when Pa O people in all their finery come with gaily decorated trays bearing morning food offerings.

Full Moon of Tabaung Festival in Myanmar

pagoda festival in Pyay, Myanmar

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.

Mann Shwe Settaw Pagoda Festival

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.

Magwe City, 331 miles from Yangon by road, is the home of two famous pagodas. Myathalun Pagoda or Magwe Myathalun Pagoda is well-known in Myanmar. The name of the Pagoda means "The Jade Throne Pagoda". According to legend the Jade Throne was enshrined by two ogre brothers in ancient times. Therefore, faces of ogres are carved into the flowery patterns on the side of the pagoda. The pagoda is situated on the bank of the Irrawaddy River. The Myathalun Pagoda festivals, which are common in other parts of the country, are also held in Magwe Division. The festivals of Myathalun Pagoda in Magwe and of Shwesettaw Pagoda in Minbu are very well-known throughout the country. 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. According to legend the original pagoda had a height of about 55.5 feet (16.9 meters) and was built by U Baw Gyaw and his wife the daughter of a certain Maha Bawga, a man of great wealth with an official title.

Minbu Shwe Settaw (in Settawyam 34 miles west of Minbu on the opposite bank of Magwe) is the home of a pair of Buddha's Footprints enshrined in a forest pagoda and surrounded by shrines. One can go there also by the Minbu A Road following a brach road at the 22 miles post. The site is on the river Man. The festival is held on the fifth waxing moon of the Myanmar calendar month, Tabodwe (February and March) annually. On the way from Minbu, the visitors can pay homage to Sandal wood Monastery at Legging, visited, it is said, by the Lord Buddha in his lifetime. The Footprint was purportedly left by the Lord Buddha when he visited Sunapranta. The lower Footprint is under water during the monsoon months as the river Man is flooded. Therefore the festival is celebrated in the later winter months.

festival painting at Nong Kay Pagoda, Thailand

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons except Cambodian Buddhist calendar, Cambodian Buddhists of Colorado

Text Sources: East Asia History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu , “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org, Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia, Asia Society Museum asiasocietymuseum.org , “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World's Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 5 East and Southeast Asia” edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1993); “ National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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