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Thailand Celebrates Start of Buddhist Rains Retreat and King’s Birthday

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Government officials pay their respects to a portrait of King Vajiralongkorn. From nationmultimedia.com
Government officials pay their respects to a portrait of King Vajiralongkorn. From nationmultimedia.com

People across Thailand celebrated the 66th birthday of King Maha Vajiralongkorn on 28 July, as well as the beginning of the three-month rains retreat (vassavasa) for the country’s Buddhist monastic community.

On the morning of 28 July, Thailand’s prime minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha, headed a 3,500-strong delegation of government officials and dignitaries in a ceremony that included offering alms to 670 monks and novices at Sanam Luang, a public square in front of Bangkok’s Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Elsewhere in the country, crowds of people donned yellow clothes visited temples and designated public venues to offer alms to monastics.

After the ceremony, the dignitaries paid their respects to a portrait of the king erected at the venue and entered the Grand Palace to sign a commemorative registry. His Holiness the Supreme Patriarch Somdet Phra Sangharaja Amborn Ambaro, head of the order of Buddhist monks in Thailand, extended his best wishes to the monarch. 

King Vajiralongkorn ascended the throne after the death of his revered father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in 2016. The birthday of King Vajiralongkorn is a national holiday in Thailand. It is unknown whether the king was in Thailand for his birthday celebrations.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha gives alms to a Buddhist monk to celebrate the birthday of the king. From nationmultimedia.com
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha gives alms to a Buddhist monk to celebrate the birthday of the king. From nationmultimedia.com

A new royal anthem titled Sadudee Jom Racaha, was debuted during the event. Written especially for King Vajiralongkorn, the anthem was approved by the Thai cabinet a few days before the celebration. The royal anthem is distinct from the official national anthem, and can only be played at royal ceremonies and at official events organized to express loyalty to king.

A new series of banknotes and a special edition of postage stamps bearing the new monarch’s likeness were also released for the occasion. “The first day of the sales of the first stamp in the reign of King Rama X [Vajiralongkorn] . . . was met with huge public interest,” Thailand’s postal service announced in a statement. (South China Morning Post)

The public also engaged in merit-making activities, some of which were organized via the “We Do Good Deeds With Hearts” volunteer program established by the king, which invites people to become volunteers and particpate in community outreach projects. In Samut Songkhram’s Mae Klong district, for example, the fishing sector announced its commitment to reducing waste at sea, while in Hat Yai public park in the southern Songkhla Province, residents gathered to plant 2,180 trees in honour of the king’s birthday.  

People offer flowers and other alms to Buddhist monastics to mark the beginning of the rains retreat. From bangkokpost.com
People offer flowers and other alms to Buddhist monastics to mark the beginning of the rains retreat. From bangkokpost.com

Buddhists across the country also headed to temples to attend a special rite kown in Thai as tak bat dokmai to mark the start of the rains retreat or Khao Phansa. Devotees offered flowers and carved wax candles to the monk and nuns. The candels are used as a light source when the monastics chant Buddhist texts through the night or perform other functions.

Therains retreat us begins the day after the full moon of the eighth lunar month in the Theravada Buddhist calendar, falling this year on 28 July. According to the Buddhist lore, it was on this day that the Shakyamuni Buddha gave his first teaching at Sarnath in India after attaining enlightenment. During the rains retreat, monastics remain within their monasteries and temple grounds, where they devote their time to meditation and study.  During India’s rainy season living outside is difficult and potentially dangerous, so in the past groups of monks would form temporary communities for the duration of the season. This also meant that they could avoid unintentionally harming crops, insects, and other creatures that come out and flourish during the rains.

While all monks and nuns are expected to observe the rains retreat, dispensation of up to seven days can be granted under certain circumstances, such as attending to sangha business, giving a Dharma teaching, or visiting a sick relative. The retreat continues until the full moon of the 11th lunar month, which this year falls on 24 October.

See more

Crowds mark King’s birthday and Buddhist Lent (Bangkok Post)
Prayut leads celebrations to mark King’s birthday (The Nation)
Thai cabinet approves new royal anthem (Royal Central)
Thais celebrate new king’s birthday by giving alms to monks, and printing new stamps (South China Morning Post)

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