Also known as Asanha Bucha, this is a Theravada Buddhist festival which is observed on the full moon day of the 8th Lunar month according to the old Indian calendar.
Usually falling in the month of July, this religious festival celebrates Buddha’s first teachings or sermon i.e. “setting into motion the wheel of Dhamma”. This is one of the most important and holiest days for the Theravada Buddhists and often called as “Dhamma” day after the first pivotal sermon.
The date for this festival in the year 2019 is 16th of July and is a national holiday in Thailand. This day also marks the starting of Vassa, the Buddhist Lent Period.
This day is the anniversary of the auspicious occasion around 2500 years ago when Lord Buddha had delivered his first sermon to his five disciples in the Deer Park of Benares and the Buddhist Sangha (monkhood) was founded. The first sermon talked about the “Wheel of Dhamma”. This wheel first spelled out the four noble truths and the Eightfold path.
The truths were that – 1) life implies sufferings i.e. dukka, 2) origin of this suffering is attachment i.e. tanha, 3) cessation of this attachment is attainable and lastly 4) the way to cessation is via the Eightfold Path. This day also marks the beginning of worship of the Triple Gems of Buddhism namely, Lord Buddha, His teachings and His Disciples. Another historical significance of Asalha is that during this month, Buddha’s son Rahula was born after which he gave up all worldly pleasures to attain spiritual enlightenment and went on to become Lord Buddha. Asalha Puja Day is also famous as the day on which Buddha chose his first disciple Kondanna who was also the first Buddhist monk to be ordained by him.
Traditions And Celebration
It’s a tradition for the Buddhists to give alms and offerings to the monks and practice Dharma on this day. To mark this day, many ceremonies and rituals are held in the temples across Thailand. Many Thai people go to the temples on this day to take part in meditations, recital of the Eight Percepts and to listen to sermons. A usual activity on this day is the monks chanting the discourse called the Dharma Cakka Sutta.
Monks also chant mantras and preach the first sermon in Sanskrit on this day. On the evening of Asalha Puja, the people perform a ritual called “Wian Tian” which involves walking around the main shrine of the temple in clockwise direction for three times. While making the rounds, they carry a candle, incense sticks and lotus buds. In Saraburi, the local monks walk in a procession all over the town holding their alms bowls on this day. Unlike the general offerings of food, the residents will put flowers into the bowls. The monks then go back to the temples and present these flowers in honor of Lord Buddha. Asanha Bucha Day is also traditionally famous as a day when Thai men choose to enter monkhood.