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Rains Retreat or Vassa 2024

This is a period marked by Buddhist Lent, which lasts three months and makes the monks stay at a single monastery

Dates: July 20–October 17, 2024

Rains Retreat or Vassa
Rains Retreat or Vassa
Rains Retreat or Vassa

The highly important time of year for Theravada Buddhist monks is a three-month-long Vassana or ‘Rains Retreat’ period. It comes right after the full moon of Asalha month, which is around July every year. The first Buddhist monks did not reside in monasteries; they traveled through villages offering their teaching, collecting alms, and sleeping beneath the trees in the forests. However, monsoons, which struck South and Southeast Asia during that season, made traveling too complicated and dangerous. Eventually, monks and nuns were invited to village monasteries and nunneries for the duration of the rains.

The Lent starts depending on the lunar calendar, but typically in July on Khao Phansa Day, and finishes on Wan Ok Phansa, typically in October.

The origins of Khao Phansa

Buddha himself started the tradition of the Rains Retreat in the year 588 BCE, when the Lord, along with 60 bhikkhus and his 54 friends, resided in Sarnath vicinity near Varanasi. Therefore, the period of Lent or Rains Retreat means a lot for ordinary Thai people. At this time, most monks are to stay in a single monastery without changing their locations and dedicate their time solely to religious aspects. Meanwhile, village vendors will keep quiet, and the atmosphere will be solemn and spiritual.

Khao Phansa Traditions

One the eve of the Buddhist lent, known as Asalabucha day, a commemoration ceremony is held in temples to mark the first sermon of Buddha to five of his first disciples. This day is sacred regarding Dharma and Sangha traditions. At the end of the Lent, three days before Wan Ok Phansa, local people bring giant decorated candles to the temple. At the beginning of the Vassana period, monasteries also hold Candle Processions with large float-size wax carvings. Besides candles, donations to monasteries include food, lotus flowers, and various goods. Temples get really crowded on that day.

Candle Festival in Ubon Ratchathani (July 19-21, 2024)

One of the best places to see giant wax carvings is Ubon Ratchathani, one of the four major cities of Isan, close to the border with Laos. but also huge floats of sculptures lit by candles. The sculptures show different aspects of religious life while also often including "burning" long boats, the highlight of a traditional Thai celebration.

Other Candle Festivals

An impressive Candle Procession can also be observed at Thao Suranari Monument in Mueang Korat. The festivities feature a wax candle parade and contest, as well as a traditional dance performance. Lad Chado market in Ayutthaya also hosts a colorful Khao Phansa celebration, with dozens of boats floating down the Lad Chado canal. The city of Nan in the Wiang Sa district hosts a Candle Ceremony at the Bunyuen Royal Temple. The ceremony features lots of candles and various festivities.

For lay people, the Vassana traditionally used to be the period when one could come to resident monks and ask for Dhamma teachings or spiritual guidance. The unique tradition of observing the Vassana has survived to the present day In the Theravada School of Buddhism, the dominant Buddhist variant in Thailand.

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