This February 14, Thailand will cerebrate Makha Bucha day by making merit, mediating, and observing beautiful candlelit processions.
by Marianna Dietrich
While on this February 14—the first full moon of the year’s third month—the world will celebrate Valentine’s Day, Thailand will be celebrating Makha Bucha Day, one of the most important dates in the Buddhist calendar, and the first of a series of Theravada Buddhist holidays that yearly commemorate milestones in the life of the historical Buddha.
This public holiday celebrates an event in which 1,250 monks spontaneously went to pay homage to the Buddha nine months after he had reached enlightenment, thus marking the beginning of the concept of “sangha,” or the Buddhist community.
During this first meeting, the Buddha was said to have laid out to his followers what would become the heart of Buddhism, the “Ovadhapatimokha.” In it, the Buddha essentially encouraged the new members of the sangha to do good, to refrain from sins and immoral acts, and to purify and cleanse the mind.
This historic meeting occurred on the third lunar month of the year, or “Makha” in Pali language, the liturgical language of Buddhists. “Bucha” in Pali means to venerate or honor, hence the name of the holiday.
How Is It Celebrated?
A large part of the holiday involves visiting the local temple and participating in or observing various rituals. One of the most important and recognizable rituals is the “wian tian,” where monks gather at sunset holding candles, incense, and flowers, and circle the temple clockwise three times, once for each of the “triple gems” of Buddhism: the Buddha, the dharma (Buddha’s teachings), and the sangha. Notably, His Majesty King Bhumibol traditionally presides over the wian tian during a private ceremony at the Grand Palace on Makha Bucha Day.
Other rituals include:
● “Tum boon,” making merit by visiting temples, giving donations, and listening to readings of the dharma
● “Tuk bard,” making offerings of food to monks and novices
● “Rub sil,” observing the five precepts—or the basic Buddhist code of ethics—which include practicing abstinence, and refraining from immoral thoughts and activities, among others
Meditating and renouncing material desires are another important part of this holy day, and alcohol is generally not sold in bars, restaurants, or convenience stores for 24 hours out of respect for the holiday.
Where in Thailand Is It Celebrated?
Given the importance of the holiday, most temples throughout Thailand will be open to visitors on February 14, to observe the rituals. The following are some of the more notable temples for celebrating Makha Bucha Day in and around Bangkok:
Wat Benchamabophit, the Marble Temple (●69 Nakorn Pathom Rd, 02 281 2501) This beautiful marble temple, located in Dusit, is a popular spot for observing Makha Bucha Day.
Wat Saket (●344 Avenue Road, 02 621 2280) At this ancient temple, monks lead a procession up the 300 steps to the golden mount with spectacular views to observe this holy day.
Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, (●Na Phra Lan Road, Phra Nakhon, 02 623 5000) The Grand Palace closes at noon on MakhaBucha Day, and the Chapel of the Emerald Buddha will be closed to tourists all day.
Wat Pak Nam (●300 Ratchamongkhon Prasart, 02 457 9042) This larger temple, known for its meditation classes, is a good place to catch the festivities.
Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan (●Ratchadamnoen Rd) Located in Nakhon Si Thammarat Province, next to the Gulf of Thailand, on Makha Bucha Day locals celebrate the “Hae Pha Khuen That Festival” in which they wrap the Phra Borom That Chedi with cloth to bring good fortune.
Makha Bucha Day is celebrated in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar, although the date of the holiday differs among the countries.