New King Leads National Observation of Buddhist Rains Retreat in Thailand
The king of Thailand, Maha Vajiralongkorn, on Sunday took part in a Buddhist ceremony to make merit and mark the beginning of Khao Phansa, the start of the three-month Buddhist rains retreat (sometimes known as Buddhist Lent) at Bowonniwet Vihara Temple in Bangkok. The Thai monarch was accompanied by his daughters Princess Bajrakitiyabha and Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana.
Founded in 1826, Wat Bowonniwet Vihara (known colloquially as Wat Bowon) is the national headquarters for the Thammayut Nikaya order of Thai Theravada Buddhism. The temple houses a Sukhothai-era statue of the Buddha that is believed to date to around 1357. The temple is also notable for the unique mural in its ordination hall (Thai: bòht), which include depictions of Western life during the early 19th century. Wat Bowonniwet Vihara has been a major temple of patronage for the ruling Chakri dynasty, of which the present king is the 10th monarch. Many male members of the family have studied and been ordained at the temple, including the present king. The royal house has ruled Thailand since the founding of the Rattanakosin Era and the city of Bangkok in 1782.
Khao Phansa, a tradition that dates back to the time of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, marks the beginning of the annual three-month rains retreat for monastics (Pali: vassavasa), beginning the day after the full moon of the eighth lunar month, during which time monks and novices remain in their temples. The specific dates of the rains retreat vary, depending on when the full moon begins in June or July and when it ends in September or October. This year, Khao Phansa began on 9 July and will end on 5 October. For monks and many lay Buddhists, this is a time for serious study, contemplation, and meditation.
The occasion was observed across the country with religious ceremonies and festivals. A major event at this time of year is the Khao Phansa candle-making ceremony, which has its origins in the times when candles were the only source of artificial light in temples, and Thai people would make large candles as offerings to be used by monks during the retreat season. The most famous of these celebrations is held in the northeastern province of Ubon Ratchathani, where the International Wax Candle Festival and Wax Candle Procession once again celebrated the tradition of carving wax images and candles. Teams gathered from all over the world to compete in the annual wax sculpture competition. The festival was accompanied by parades, folk dancing in traditional costume, and traditional music.
In addition to hosting its own candle festival, Buddhists from all over the country gathered in Saraburi Province, central Thailand, at the shrine of the Buddha’s footprint to make offerings of yellow and white flowers and to bathe the feet of monks. In Surin Province, meanwhile, a merit-making ceremony and special alms round was performed by senior monks on elephant back, with scores of elephants taking part in a parade through the provincial capital.
Thailand’s military prime minister, General Prayut Chan-o-cha, called on the public to use the rains retreat as an opportunity to make merit by refraining from drinking alcohol. More than a million volunteers have been dispatched nationwide as part of a campaign to discourage young people from drinking during the period. A recent World Health Organisation report ranked Thailand as fifth in the world in terms of alcohol consumption.
King makes merit in Buddhist Lent ceremony (The Nation)
Buddhist Lent celebrated with piety (The Nation)
The many cultures of Khao Phansa (The Nation)
Prayut urges drinkers to sober up for Buddhist Lent period (The Nation)
Buddhists across Thailand celebrate "Khao Phansa” (Xinhuanet)
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