“In this body with its perception and consciousness I declare the world of pain, the origin, the cessation, and the practice that leads to its cessation“— Gautama Buddha.
Vesak, also known as Visakha Bucha Day, holds immense religious significance for the people of Thailand. It serves as a solemn reminder for the people to reflect upon and internalise the teachings of Buddha.
Lord Buddha was born in 623 BC as Prince Siddhartha to King Suddhodana and Queen Sirimahamaya at Lumpini Grove, between Kapilavetthu and Devadaha on the Nepal border.
He renounced his life as a prince and searched for the absolute truth. After thirty-five years of arduous quest for the absolute truth, he attained enlightenment on the full-moon night of Visakha and became known as Gautama Buddha.
At 80, following 45 years of teaching, Lord Buddha passed away in Kusinara on the full-moon night of the sixth lunar month.
Vesak thus marks the three significant events of Buddha’s life — his birth, enlightenment, and passing. It is observed during the full moon of the sixth lunar month, also known as the Visakha month, typically falling in either May or June.
However, if an additional lunar month (Adhikamasa) is added in a given year, the festivities are held during the full moon night of the seventh lunar eclipse.
Tracking the Footsteps of Buddhism in Thailand
Following the third Buddhist council in 250 BC at Pataliputra (now Patna, Bihar), King Asoka, a devout follower of Buddhism, sought to disseminate the profound teachings of Buddha to the far reaches of the world.
To achieve this noble endeavour, he dispatched a cohort of Buddhist monks to various corners of the globe, carrying with them the illuminating wisdom of Buddha’s teachings.
Among these monks, the venerable elders Sona and Uttara arrived in Suvarnabhumi (now Nakhon Pathom province, Thailand) to usher in the advent of Buddhism in Thailand.
The profound spiritual doctrines they espoused took root in the hearts of the Thai people, eventually becoming a defining aspect of their culture. During this time, people also witnessed the emergence of the iconic pagoda design, which stands testament to the enduring legacy of Buddhism in Thailand.
How Vesak is Celebrated in Thailand
Like many Buddhist holidays in Thailand, Vesak encourages people to discourse on Buddha’s teachings and implement them daily. The celebration commences almost a week ahead, as devout Buddhists decorate their homes with vibrant yellow flags.
The day begins with the devotees paying homage to Buddha in their local temples with their families. It is the day of activities that express generosity and piety for the spiritual welfare of their community.
As the day progresses, Thai people participate in spiritual discourses, delving into the profound teachings of Buddha’s life, expounding on the three pillars of Buddhism — Buddha, Dharma (truth), and Sangha (community). They offer prayers through meditative practices, seeking inner peace and enlightenment.
In the evening, people participate in a ceremonial circumambulation procession known as Wian Tian. This symbolic act entails walking clockwise around the temple’s ordination hall (Phra Ubosot), holding aloft lit candles, fragrant joss sticks, and delicate flowers.
Traditional Rituals of Vesak
The three significant traditional rituals embedded in the pious celebration of the day are:
❖ Tam Boon — denotes the practice of merit-making wherein devotees visit temples to attend Dham preaches and make offerings to other devotees to cultivate virtuous deeds and earn spiritual merits.
❖ Rub Sil — refers to observing the five precepts or the five moral codes to follow that include abstaining from (i) taking life, (ii) taking what is not given, (iii) sensuous misconduct, (iv) false speech, and (v) intoxication.
❖ Tak Bard — means offering food to the monks and other devotees in the temple.
Important Things to Keep in Mind during Vesak
If you plan a trip to Thailand, this time is one of the best for connecting with divinity and spirituality. However, if you are a tourist, you must keep a few things in mind:
❖ The sale and consumption of alcohol during the festival are banned.
❖ You must follow a proper dress code to attend, generally wearing white clothes as a sign of respect.
❖ If you want to attend the prayers, you must check particular temples’ timings. Usually held in the morning.
It is undoubtedly one of the most revered festivals in Thailand and bears a mesmerising and enlightening experience for everyone.
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UNGA & Vesak
In 1999, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) passed a resolution. The resolution acknowledged Visakha Bucha Day, or Vesak, as a momentous day for Buddhists worldwide. Since then, Thailand has hosted the UN Day of Vesak summit on eleven occasions.
Must Visit Temples During Vesak
❖ Wat Phra Kaew Temple, aka Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Grand Palace, Bangkok
❖ Wat Pho Temple, Phra Nakhon District, Bangkok
❖ Phutthamonthon, Nakhon Pathom Province of Thailand
❖ Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple, Chiang Mai Province
❖ Wat Phan Tao Temple, Chiang Mai Province