Festivals and Special Days in Buddhism
are many special or holy days held throughout the year by the Buddhist
community. Many of these days celebrate the birthdays of Bodhisattvas in the
Mahayana tradition or other significant dates in the Buddhist calendar. The
most significant celebration happens every May on the night of the full
moon, when Buddhist all over the world celebrate the birth, enlightenment
and death of the Buddha over 2,500 years ago. It has become to be known as
Buddhist Festivals are always joyful occasions. Typically on a festival day,
lay people will go the the local temple or monastery and offer food to the
monks and take the Five Precepts and listen to a Dharma talk. In the
afternoon, they distribute food to the poor to make merit and in the evening
join perhaps in a ceremony of circumambulation a stupa three time as a sign
of respect to the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha. The day will conclude with evening
chanting of the Buddha's teachings and meditation.
holy days are specific to a particular Buddhist tradition or ethnic group
(as above). There are two aspects to take into consideration regarding
Buddhist festivals: Most Buddhists, with the exception of the Japanese, use
the Lunar Calendar and the dates of Buddhist festivals vary from country to
country and between Buddhist traditions. There are so many Buddhist
festivals, here are some of the more important ones:
In Theravadin countries, Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Lao, the
new year is celebrated for three days from the first full moon day in April.
In Mahayana countries the new year starts on the first full moon day in
January. However, the Buddhist New Year depends on the country of origin or
ethnic background of the people. As for example, Chinese, Koreans and
Vietnamese celebrate late January or early February according to the lunar
calendar, whilst the Tibetans usually celebrate about one month later.
or Visakah Puja ("Buddha Day")
Traditionally, Buddha's Birthday is known as Vesak
or Visakah Puja (Buddha's Birthday Celebrations). Vesak is the major
Buddhist festival of the year as it celebrates the birth, enlightenment and
death of the Buddha on the one day, the first full moon day in May, except
in a leap year when the festival is held in June. This celebration is called
Vesak being the name of the month in the Indian calendar.
Puja Day (Fourfold Assembly or "Sangha Day")
Magha Puja Day takes places on the full moon day of the third lunar month
(March). This holy day is observed to commemorate an important event in the
life of the Buddha. This event occurred early in the Buddha's teaching life.
After the first Rains
Retreat (Vassa) at the Deer Park at Sarnath, the Buddha went to Rajagaha
city where 1250 Arahats,(Enlightened saints) who were the Buddha's
disciples, without prior appointment, returned from their wanderings to pay
respect to the Buddha. They assembled in the Veruvana Monastery with the two
chief disciples of the Buddha, Ven. Sariputta and Ven. Moggalana.
The assembly is called
the Fourfold Assembly because it consisted of four factors: (1) All 1250
were Arahats; (2) All of them were ordained by the Buddha himself; (3) They
assembled by themselves without any prior call; (4) It was the full moon
day of Magha month (March).
Puja Day ("Dhamma Day")
Asalha Puja means to pay homage to the Buddha on the full moon day of the
8th lunar month (approximately July). It commemorates the Buddha's first
teaching: the turning of the wheel of the Dhamma (Dhammacakkappavattana
Sutta) to the five ascetics at the Deer Park (Sarnath) near Benares city,
India. Where Kondanna, the senior ascetic attained the first level of
enlightenment (the Sotapanna level of mind purity).
The four monthly holy days which continue to be observed in Theravada
countries - the new moon, full moon, and quarter moon days. Known in Sri
Lanka as Poya Day. [ Uposatha or Observance Days ]
This day marks the conclusion of the Rains retreat (vassa). In the following
month, the kathina ceremony is held, during which the laity gather to make
formal offerings of robe cloth and other requisites to the Sangha.
Ceremony (Robe offering ceremony)
Is held on any convenient date within one month of the conclusion of the
Vassa Retreat, which is the three month rains retreat season (Vassa) for the
monastic order. It is the time of the year when new robes and other
requisites may be offered by the laity to the monks.
At the end of one rains retreat (vassa), the Buddha was so pleased with the
progress of the assembled monks that he encouraged them to extend their
retreat for yet another month. On the full-moon day marking the end of that
fourth month of retreat, he presented his now-famous instructions on
mindfulness of breathing (anapanasati), which may be found in the
Anapanasati Sutta (MN 118) - The Discourse on Mindfulness of Breathing.
In the Burmese tradition, this day celebrates the occasion when the Buddha
is said to have gone to the Tushita Heaven to teach his mother the
Abhidhamma. It is held on the full moon of the seventh month of the Burmese
lunar year starting in April which corresponds to the full moon day in
This Thai Buddhist festival goes on for several days during the middle of
April. People clean their houses and wash their clothes and enjoy sprinkling
perfumed water on the monks, novices and other people for at least two or
three days. They gather around the riverbank, carrying fishes in jars to put
into the water, for April is so hot in Thailand that the ponds dry out and
the fish would die if not rescued. People go to the beach or river bank with
jars or buckets of water and splash each other. When everyone is happily wet
they are usually entertained by boat races on the river.
Krathong (Festival of Floating Bowls)
At the end of the Kathin Festival season, when the rivers and canals are
full of water, the Loy Krathong Festival takes place in all parts of
Thailand on the full moon night of the Twelfth Lunar month. People bring
bowls made of leaves (which contain flowers) candles and incense sticks, and
float them in the water. As they go, all bad luck is suppose to disappear.
The traditional practice of Loy Krathong was meant to pay homage to the holy
footprint of the Buddha on the beach of the Namada River in India.
In May, when the moon is half-full, two white oxen pull a gold painted
plough, followed by four girls dressed in white who scatter rice seeds from
gold and silver baskets. This is to celebrate the Buddha's first moment of
enlightenment, which is said to have happened when the Buddha was seven
years old, when he had gone with his father to watched the ploughing.
(Known in Thailand as Raek Na)
The Buddha used the example of a wild elephant which, when it is caught, is
harnessed to a tame one to train. In the same way, he said, a person new to
Buddhism should have a special friendship of an older Buddhist. To mark this
saying, Thais hold an elephant festival on the third Saturday in November.
Festival of the Tooth
Kandy is a beautiful city in Sri Lanka. On a small hill is a great temple
which was especially built to house a relic of the Buddha - his tooth. The
tooth can never be seen, as it is kept deep inside may caskets. But once a
year in August, on the night of the full moon, there is a special procession
Is celebrated throughout the Mahayana tradition from the first to the
fifteenth days of the eighth lunar month. It is believed that the gates of
Hell are opened on the first day and the ghosts may visit the world for
fifteen days. Food offerings are made during this time to relieve the
sufferings of these ghosts. On the fifteenth day, Ulambana or Ancestor Day,
people visit cemeteries to make offerings to the departed ancestors. Many
Theravadins from Cambodia, Laos and Thailand also observe this festival.
Ulambana is also a
Japanese Buddhist festival known as Obon, beginning on the thirteenth of
July and lasting for three days, which celebrates the reunion of family
ancestors with the living.
Avalokitesvara’s (Kuan Yin) Birthday
This is a festival which celebrates the Bodhisattva ideal represented by
Avalokitesvara. Who represents the perfection of compassion in the Mahayana
traditions of Tibet and China. It occurs on the full moon day in March.