Asia Exchange has its 10th anniversary in 2017, and we hope there will be many more anniversaries to come. To properly celebrate this year, we will not only be focusing on Asia Exchange but also on the numerous festivals and national holidays in different Asian countries. Some are familiar to us Westerners and some are completely unique to a specific country. The more celebration the merrier!
This year Makha Bucha (also know by the name Māgha Pūjā) is celebrated in Thailand from 11th to 13th of February. The biggest festivities take place on the first day of Makha Bucha. For the Theravada Buddhist Thai it is one of the most important celebrations of the year. Like many other Asian holidays, the celebration days of Makha Bucha vary every year depending on the Thai lunisolar calendar. Each year the full moon of the third lunar month determines the date of the Makha Bucha Day. It was celebrated for the first time as a national holiday in 1957.
Celebrating the Makha Bucha commemorates an event over 2000 years ago, when 1,250 enlightened Buddhist monks gathered to be ordained by the Buddha. The gathering was spontaneous without any prior agreement, which makes the occasion even more special. For Theravada Buddhist the event is seen as a turning point in the development of the Buddhist religion. The spiritual intention of the Makha Bucha is to purify one’s mind, avoid doing bad deeds and focus on being a beneficent person.
Buddhist monks are highly honored in Thailand and they have a key role in the Makha Bucha celebrations. In the morning of the Makha Bucha Day people wake up early to offer alms for the monks. Giving alms is a distinctive part of Buddhism in Thailand and it gives the laymen an opportunity to make merit. The alms offered are mainly food, as the monastic discipline forbids the monks to accept money.
In the evening time of the Makha Bucha celebrations the temples are packed with people listening sermons. Most of them also take part in a special candle ceremony where people walk around the temple clockwise three times while holding candles, flowers and incense. Each one of the three circuits express the main ideals (also known as the three jewels) of Buddhism: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.