Thai Holidays and Festivals

 

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Peaking out the mask..Ghost Festival, Loei. Photo Credit: Margot Weinmann

 

After a short time living in Thailand, you will  notice that there is not a shortage of ceremonies and festivals all over the year. These celebrations are occasions, especially in rural areas, for observing a religious event, royal ceremonies or just for family encounters, for enjoying after months of hard work  or just for asking for a good harvest season.

We should make clear  that not all festivals are  national public holidays, and that some of them are regionals. Most festivals were introduced in Thailand centuries ago, by different cultures that had left their influence which were absorbed into  the Thai culture and customs, with a Thai” touch” added, resulting in a fascinating blend of Buddhism and local animism beliefs.

Although  the celebrations are based  mainly on the lunar cycle, there are also  agricultural events which have a close relation with  the rainy season, the solar method of calculation  which were introduced from India, decisions made by court astrologers, dates selected by government officials and then, some  Western holidays  were also adopted. Having as a result a calendar that seems to  get more  crowed every year, with Buddhist Festivals, Agricultural Festivals, Traditional Cultural Festivals, Sporting Festivals and Royal festivals and  adopted Western celebrations that are, already, part of Thai life.

As we have already mentioned, the contents that you will find in this page,  is the result of our research to which we have added some comments of our own. Therefore, the information that we are presenting, is based on a fantastic book , that is worth buying and reading : Traditional Festivals in Thailand by Ruth GersonUnfortunately, this edition is sold out, but luckily enough, as we were told, a new updated edition in going out, soon, which are very good news indeed.

 

Buddhist Festivals

As we have seen in our page: Thai Beliefs, Thailand is a predominantly Therevada Buddhist country, where Thais devoutly follow the Buddha’s teachings. Although  blended with traces of animism , Buddhism has deeps roots in  and guides daily Thai life and thus, being  inseparable from its culture.

As a result, all major festivals are essentially Buddhist in nature, commemorating important events in the life of the Buddha. In Thailand, three major Buddhist celebrations which are observed as national public holidays: Makha Bucha, Visakha Bucha and Asalaha Bucha.

The religious festivals provide a time when people all over the country flock to the temples and pay their respect to the Buddha and his teachings. here, we would like to note that although each of the three occasions named above commemorates a different event, the ceremonies and rituals that take place at the temple in each occasion, are very similar.

These days are of great importance, as they symbolise what is known as triratna or “Triple Gem”: the Buddha, his teachings or the Dharma and the monkhood, or the Sangha.  So, Makha Bucha,  is celebrated on the full moon of third lunar month,  usually  February, praises  the Dharma, Visaka Bucha on the full moon of the sixth lunar month, usually  May, pay homage to the Buddha, and Asalaha Bucha on the full moon of the eight lunar month, usually July, honours the Sangha.

As an expression of the triratna, many rituals in the temple are performed in threes: devotees bow in obeisance three times before the image of the Buddha, they bring three items as offering (a flower, usually a lotus bud, a lighted candle and a burning stick of incense)  and with these, they circle the ubosot ( ordination hall) , three times.

 

If  only I’d known…

These three items have a symbolism: the lotus is the symbol of impermanence, pure and beautiful , but subject to decay. Also represents enlightenment because its grown is compared to human struggle and achievement…trapped in mud, goes up through the water to reach the light of sun as do men until reaching the light of enlightenment .

The light of the candle symbolises the light of wisdom and the heady smell of incense represents the sweetness of enlightenment.

 

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Main Buddhist events are celebrated on days of full moon of months of Lunar calendar. So, the exact date might change from one year to the other. Having this in mind, Makha Bucha, is celebrated on the full moon of third lunar month, usually February; Visaka Bucha on the full moon of the sixth lunar month, usually May; and Asalaha Bucha on the full moon of the eight lunar month, usually July . Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Agricultural Festivals

In a country that has been primarily agricultural for centuries, the forces of nature are of greatest importance. Although sunshine and rain are abundant in Thailand, divine forces are still today consulted annually to ensure a good crop, particularly of rice, the staple food, and then, they are thanked , according to the result of the harvests.

To be sure of plentiful rain, especially in the dry north-eastern region of Thailand, curious methods are applied, rooted in animism, myths and ancient practices, to placate the spirits and ask their help in creating favourable conditions for the coming harvest. These ceremonies are held  during the months of May and June , just before the start of  the rainy season.

Not all of these ceremonies are national  public holidays, and are celebrated in different regions of the country, so  saving two or three days out of your calendar,  to witness these festivals, is an opportunity that we shouldn’t leave pass . We are not listing all of them, but the ones more traditional  that you will hear of : The Royal Ploughing Ceremony, The Rocket Festival, The Ghost Festival.

 

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Ploughing Ceremony at Sanan Luang, Bangkok. Photo Credit: Ruth Gerson

 

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Looking out his mask. Ghost festival, Dan Sai, lei , Isan. Photo Credit: Margot Weinmann

Traditional Cultural Festivals

Although most festivals in Thailand were originated in India, they have become part of the Thai cultural heritage, and among them, several are ways used by the Tai for asking favours to be  bestowed upon them. Among these,  we can name : the Songkran rites  that express the people’s desire to secure a good year for themselves;  while the Loy Krathong festivities honour all source of water, asking for forgiveness for polluting them.

 

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Songkrang , the Thai new Year. Photo Credit: TAT- Tourism Authority of Thailand

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Loi Krathong. Trying to set a krathong to float without get the light of the candle being blow by the wind. Loi Krathong festival, Pattaya city, Jomtien Beach. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Any source of water is good for floating a krathong and doing so, asking forgiveness to Goddess of waters…Inside a Hong ,Phuket. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

Sporting Festivals

Festivals in which physically demanding activities take place, have become part of the Thai calendar. Originally used in warfare, Boat racing, Kite flying and elephant training, as the  Elephant Round Up, have become sporting events, requiring great skill and accuracy. These events are performed in impressive teamwork, when men attune their strength to act as one,  or while a different kind of teamwork is display by the elephants and their trainers.

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Elephant Round Up, Surin. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Royal festivals

Royal anniversaries observed in Thailand as national holidays are linked to the Chakry dynasty. Since its foundation in 1782 with the city of Bangkok as capital of the kingdom, the dynasty has provided the country with remarkable kings, each leaving a legacy of his own time.

The Royal Festivals included in the Thai calendar are : Chakry Day observing the foundation of Chakry dynasty, Chulalongkorn Day, remembering King Chulalogkorn, Rama V’s, passing,  the birthday of late  King Bhumibol Adulyadej The great , considered National Father’s day,   the Birthday of Queen Sirikit, the Queen of Rama IX,  considered National Mother’s Day. After King Adulyadej Bhumibol passed away in October,13th , 2016 two Royal commemoration dates were added to the Thai holiday calendar: King Vajiralongkorn’s – Rama X- birthday and October 13th, remembering the late  King Aduljadej Bhumibol’s, passing.

 

Thai  Public Holidays, Festivals and Observances

We  have listed in chronological order the national public holidays, festivals and observances celebrated by the Thai people. We also have included a short description of  the main public holidays and festivals,  as they are celebrated by the majority of the Thais.You will find  that there are more festivals than the ones we listed, which are regional festivals also marked by parades and public celebrations, but we decided to include in this page the most traditional ones.

A note here: For any information about public holidays and festivals celebrated in Pattaya city , visit our page: Thai Festivals and Events in Pattaya

 

Calendar of Thai Holidays, Festivals and Observances

We have organized the list of celebrations  month by month,  noting which of them are national  public holidays, regional public holidays, bank holidays or just national observances considered by particulars sector as holidays,  so you can easily check  at the time of planning a trip , or, if you decide so,  just  go to witness and may be, to participate in any of them, which would be  really a rich  experience, worth trying.

When  we mention Observances, we mean that we have included  the most common national and regional Observances, as National Children Day, Teacher’s Day, Chinese  New Year, Valentine’s Day and Christmas Eve.

Before going into the calendar, we would like to make some clarifications, that may be  of great help:

 

If only I’d known…

  • All national public holidays in Thailand are regulated by the government, and most are observed by both the public and private sectors. There are usually sixteen national public holidays in a year, but more might be declared by the cabinet  on annual basis, so it is important to check the public holidays calendar  which is published at the beginning of every year.
  •  National Observances are regulated by the government, but are not observed as a public holidays. Annual observances vary, and some might be observed by specific sectors, as National Children Day   and Teacher’s Day,  which is known as Wai Kru. So it is important to check the public holidays calendar  which is published at the beginning of every year.
  • There are other observances, both official and non- official, local and international, that are observed to varying degrees throughout the country, as  Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day and Christmas Day.
  • We should be aware that while all national public holidays are observed by government agencies, holidays observed by financial institutions are regulated by  the Bank of Thailand  and they might  differ slightly from those observed by the government .
  • So, we see that  banks do not observe the Royal Ploughing Ceremony Day or the beginning of the Buddhist Lent  ( Khao Phansa), but instead, do observe  May 1st  as National labour Day and July 1st as the middle bank holiday. Also, Chinese New Year  are designated as holidays for financial institutions in Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala and Satun provinces.
  • Therefore, it would be wise to check in advance  visiting  the Bank of Thailand website: www.banking-holidays.com/thailand/bank-of-thailand-holidays
  • Private business are required by the Labour Protection Act to observe at least 13 holidays per year, including  May 1st ( National Labour Day), but may choose the other  12 observances they follow.
  • If a holiday falls on a weekend, the following Monday is observed by the government as compensation day.
  • The majority of festivals and holidays, are based on the lunar calendar with December being the first month of the Lunar year. Having as a result, that as several festivals and religious holidays coincide  with the full moon of Lunar calendar,  the date  might change every year.
  • Election days are also  considered national public holidays.
  • On election days, religious and royal holidays , the sale of alcohol is banned, and entertainment venues may be closed.

January

New Year’s Day–January 1st

National public holiday. The traditional Thai New Year is celebrated in April (Songkran Festival), however, as Thailand has adopted the Gregorian Calendar, to be attuned with the Western world, the official  year changes on January 1st.

Note that Thai people count the years from Buddha’s birth, 543 years BCE (before Christian Era), but they also use the western calendar. So the year 2016, per example, is more commonly referred to as year 2559 (2016 plus 543).

New Year is celebrated all over Thailand with grand fanfare and a stunning number of fireworks on New Year’s Eve. If you are in Bangkok, the countdown usually takes place at the World Trade Center (Chidlom BTS station). But if you are at home, here in Pattaya, the countdown organised by Pattaya Municipality Hall is held at Bai Hai pier.

Children’s Day–the second Saturday of January

Children’s Day is celebrated on the second Saturday of January. It is an observance widely celebrated, especially by governmental agencies, with many activities held  for children, and parents take their children out, so you will see  amusement parks very busy on the day, as well as shopping malls.

Wai Kru Day or Teachers’ Day  – January 16th

This day honours teachers countrywide, and all pupils pay respect to their teachers during a especial ceremony at their school, as teachers in Thailand are still very respected by students and parents alike. Schools may observe this day as holiday, especially those under the authority of the Office of the Basic Education Commission.

 

Teachers Day

Wai Khroo ( or Kru) Day. Each class designs and constructs an elaborate floral tribute. It takes them all day to do it. These are very beautiful and usually are in the form of eggs or fruit . The flowers are buds and not fully blossomed – for obvious symbolic reasons. Each is brought forward by a representative of the class, on their knees, and offered to the director or head teacher. In this image, Wai Kru  day celebrated at Redemptorist Vocational School for People with Disabilities, at Father Ray Foundation, Sukhunvuit Road, Pattaya . Photo Credit: Raymond Lightbown

February

Valentine’s Day–February 14

In a country where public displays of affection are frowned upon and young people are very shy about them, Valentine’s Day, adopted from the Western world,  offers an opportunity to send a love card or ask someone out to dinner. It’s the most romantic day of the year!

Chinese New Year – First day of lunar calendar, usually  falls in February

This  is observed as  public holiday only  in:  Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala and Satun provinces, where there is  an important Chinese community. One of the biggest influences that Thailand has received along its history is Chinese given by  a large number of people, descendants of merchants from China,  who settled in the country  after trading  with the kingdom over several centuries.

These early settlers brought with them many beliefs, ceremonies and influences from their home country  such as  ancestral worship and the lunar calendar. One of the main celebrations is, the Chinese New Year, ardently  celebrated  by all Chinese communities all through Thailand… If you are in Bangkok, dress in red and join the celebrations in Chinatown!

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Celebrating Chinese New Year, China Town, Bangkok. Photo credit: Silvia Muda

Kite Flying – from February to April 

Thailand’s tradition of kite flying dates back  to the thirteenth century, to the kingdom of Sukhothai  where,  kites were used as recreation, ceremonies and warfare.

The flying of kites appealed to the kings of the Chakri dynasty who promoted the activity and it was king Chulalongkorn, Rama V, who introduced kite fighting as a team sport, and so was that  kiting became an national sport with defined rules.

To these days, annual contests take place between February and April, the official Kite Season, when strong winds blow off the gulf of Thailand, and every open area becomes the site for flying kites. Great excitement is generated at these matches, with elated winers and disappointed losers.

But not all is competition. During the kite-fly season, you will see groups of young Thais or whole families enjoying an outdoor weekend while the youngest flying or just learning to fly their own colourful kites. It is very easy to get tempted to buy one and I give a   try …

 

An Interesting story:

We would like to share with you some pictures which are part of an interesting  story of the Kite -flying season in Bangkok, that we found reading the Bangkok Post newspaper.

” The winds have come and Sanan Luang is the place to be, so tell the kids to put away their computers, tablets and mobile phones and let them have some real fun…

You can read the full story here visiting this website: www.bangkokpost.com/lifestyle/social-and-lifestyle/524843/come-fly-with-us

 

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A happy family at Sanam Luang enjoying a weekend As you can see, Kite-flying is not only for the youngest. Photo Credit: Pornprom Satrabhaya -Bangkok Post

sang Luang special for kite-flying   Bangkok Post

A spectacular backdrop for one of Thailand’s traditional pastimes. Such a scene — a sunset dotted with kites, backdropped by the grandeur of the Grand Palace — offers an exotic snapshot for tourists. At this time of year, with the scorching heat of April, comes the wind, ushering in high season for kite-flying. Photo Credit: Bangkok Post

A little help from my ld brother

It takes a bit of help from little sister to get this one in the air. Sanag Luang, Bangkok. Photo Credit: Bangkok Post

The sharp shaped Chula are for men

May be this team is practicing for a competition of Fly Fighting . The star- shaped Chula are for men , an very well trained. Sanag Luang, Bangkok. Photo Credit: Bangkok Post

you can uy your own kite

You can buy your kite ready-made from vendors at Sanam Luang. To Tong-orn is a 59-year-old kite seller who has been handcrafting and selling kites at Sanam Luang for nearly 40 years. He remembers days when the sky above Sanam Luang was pocked with flashes of colour. Photo Credit: Bangkok Post

 

Makha Bucha Day – Full moon of 3rd lunar month, late February or early March

National public holiday. Makha Bucha Day commemorates the day when 1,250 disciples gathered spontaneously  to listen  the Buddha giving a sermon with  some of his most important teachings. It is observed on the full moon of the third lunar month, generally late February or early March.

In this day Thai people usually go to the temple from early morning,  participate in ceremonies, and in the evening all worshipers join in  the Wien Thien,  devotional circumambulation of the ubosot, walking around its exterior three times, clockwise, always keeping the temple on their right. ( Circumambulating clock wise indicates the cycle of life, while  walking in a counter-clockwise indicates the cycle of death, a ritual performed at funerals).

At all religious festivals, lighting the first candle at the temple is a great honour, a privilege usually reserved for the chief abbot, a member of the royal family or an important member of the community. This candle, known as “father candle” serves to light the candles of worshippers.

Through the haze of smoke and faintly glowing candles, a continuos stream of people circle the building, paying their respects to the Buddha. If you are interested in witnessing this event, you could go to the closest  temple , you won’t be disappointed , and sure enough it will an occasion to learn more about Thai Beliefs.

 

makha-bucha- Buddhists quietly walk three times around teh temple prayer house, performing the Wien Thien ceremony in the evenning at wat Nong Prue-pattaya mail

Buddhists quietly walk three times around the temple prayer house, performing the Wien Thien ceremony in the evenning at Wat Nong Prue.You could  read the full article: Eastern region Buddhists celebrate Makha Bucha Day, by Staff reporters – March 15, 2012,  visiting: www.pattayamail.com

April

Chakri Day – April 6

National public holiday. Chakri Day commemorates the founding of the Chakri dynasty, on April, 6th 1782 which  has continuously been honoured by paying respect to all its kings.

Chakri Day ceremonies are led by the king accompanied by the royal family, palace dignitaries and government officials. Respects are paid to the Buddha, the Chakry dynasty, and its founder, in that order. The king and his retinue first visit the the Emerald Buddha, the palladium of Chakri dynasty, in the Chapel  Royal of the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew.

Next, the king pays tribute to the former Chakri kings whose statues are enshrined in the Prasat Phra Thepbidorn , the Royal Pantheon, located next to  the Chapel Royal . This celestial hall used to be opened in the past only on Chakri Day, but now is opened on other dynastic occasions. The ceremony in the Royal Pantheon is semi private. The king, accompanied by royal and official personages, pays respects to his ancestors by lighting candles.

This ceremony, depicts abstract respect to the concept of kingship and not to one particular king. After the royal ceremony ends, the Royal Pantheon  remains open for the public to get access, being this one of the rare time that that happens.

The third ceremony of the day  takes the king and his entourage to the foot of the Memorial bridge where a bronze statue of Rama I, founder of the Chakri dynasty,  sits on an elevated throne overlooking the city. The public has the opportunity to share this act of respect to the greatly admired monarch by placing floral wreaths at the base of his statue.

Thus ends the ceremonies dedicated to the great Chakri dynasty which has kept the country at peace, more than 200 years after its founding.

If you are interested in reading about  the Chakri dynasty and Chakri Kings , see our page about Thai Monarchy

 

 

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Phra Borom Ratcha Sanyarak , known in Thai as usabok, or the monument of the Royal Insignia. In this case is the one which shows the Royal Insignia of of Rama V.The building on the background is Prasat Phra Thep-bidorn, the Royal Pantheon ,Grand Palace, Bangkok. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Main entrance of Prasat Phra Thep -bidorn, the Royal Pantheon located in the Grand Palace. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

Songkran Festival- 13 th to 15th April

National public holiday and is the Thai New year.  Songkran is the focal  holiday of Thai culture, marking the change of seasons from arid heat to humid rains. The customary  three days of celebrations embrace the rites of sprinkling water  as acts of purification, family gatherings honouring the elderly , Buddhist rituals and the now very popular water-splashing revelry.

The name Songkran is derived from ancient Sanskrit literally describing the sun’s monthly movement within the zodiac. This festival was most probably introduced into Thailand from India, where the festival of Holi is still celebrated.

Originally a lunar holiday, Songkran has become a fixed date on the Thai calendar, observed from 13th to 15th of April, to suit modern life. Although parts of Thailand celebrate Songkran up to one week or more, Pattaya  being a clear example of it, most regions observe the traditional three days.

Tradition dictates that on the eve of Songkran, the last day of the old year, every house is  thoroughly cleaned and all old refuse is burnt so as not to carry back luck or anything harmful into the new year. Another old tradition is  that  firecrackers should be setting off to frighten away any bad spirits that may lurk about from the old year.

Early in the morning of  Songkran day, the first day of the new year, people pay respects to the monks by bringing offerings of food prepared the previous day, being this a customarily temple ritual which allows the public to make merits.

In early afternoon, the Buddha images are taken out the temples for ritual bathing, and are sprinkled with lustral water by devotees. The act of purification is also performed on images in private home shrines, on family elders, on especially revered monks and village seniors who are father figures to their communities.

Songkran is a time for family gatherings, when young members, coming back home   from all over the country bringing gifts, to visit their elders, pour scented water over the palms of their hands, and receive blessings in return. This gentle water sprinkling done within families escalated into public splashing by the bucketful, when nobody is spared.Young  people, and not so young , have a great time lying in ambush with buckets of water, huge water guns and hoses to get everyone soaking wet.

Songkran  is also a time for  religious and social functions. Festivals are celebrated with great enthusiasm, including parades, carnivals and beauty contests while music blares and great quantity of food and liquor are consumed.

A tradition practised on the second day of Songkran is the building of sand chedi , which are  decorated with colourful flags and flowers. Although predominately a northern custom,  the sand chedi building has became a popular way of devotion in several regions of Thailand.

 

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The Buddha images are taken out the temples for ritual bathing, and are sprinkled with lustral water by devotees, as it is seen on this picture where worshippers sprinkle lustral water on the Phra Buddha Sihing at Sanam Luang. Photo Credit: Ruth Gerson

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During the second day of Songkran, sand chedis are built and decorated with colourful flags and flowers. Bang Saen, Chonburi province. Photo Credit: TAT – Tourism Authority of Thailand.

May

Labour Day – May 1

National public holiday in Thailand, and coincides with International Workers Day, celebrated  in many other countries worldwide.

Royal Ploughing Ceremony Day – date determined by court astrologers

National public holiday only for Government  and Public Sector, so have this in mind if you have to go to any public office.

Rack Na, or the Ploughing Ceremony, literally means “the first ploughing”. It marks the start of the rice- planting season when farmers from all over the country converge into Bangkok to witness the rites. Falling on the six lunar month ( May), the exact date varies annually, determined by court astrologers who select an auspicious day for the ceremony.

In the past, the Ploughing Ceremony  was conducted  by a Brahmin priest only. During the reign of Rama IV ( 1850-67), this changed when  King Mongut added religious rites to the ceremony. Following the tradition of sowing the first rice in a royal field, the ceremony is held at Sanam Luang ( Royal Ground) which is located directly outside the Grand Place. It is not a short and quick ceremony, as lasts two full days, the first dedicated to prayers and blessings, the second devoted to the actual ploughing.

The Ploughing Ceremony is  a ritual through which are predicted  the forthcoming rice harvest, important issues as if there will enough rains or if it will be a generous year, or if the crops will suffer drought, floods or pests. This ceremony has been held in answer to all these questions since the Sukhothai period ( 1257-1350) and  kept, with some differences, as one of the traditional ceremonies which is attended by the king or a member of the royal family. The ceremony itself  is conducted by the Lord of the ceremony.

Preparations for the Ploughing Ceremony involve a great number of details which are carried our carefully.The  spacious Royal Ground is transformed into a multi- pavilion shrine. In the afternoon of the first day monks place a Buddha image in one of the erected pavilions while Brahmin priests carry images of the Hindu gods Shiva and Vishnu placing them in another pavilion, all in readiness for the second and main day of the ceremony.

It is also on the first day that the king appoints the Lord of the Ceremony. This position is usually held by the Minister of Agriculture. This “temporary king” receives an item of the royal regalia, usually a ring, that empowers him for the duration of the ceremony. In older days, the sword of state was presented, bestowing on the king’s representative a greater power than he is given today.

An important ritual on the eve of the ploughing ceremony is the blessing of the sacred rice that will be used the next day.This Buddhist rite is performed by high-ranking monks at a Buddha image in the posture “Calling Down the Rain”, in the chapel Royal, Wat Phra Kaew ( Temple of the Emerald Buddha).  The king, or the member of the royal family representing the monarch, presides over the religious ceremonies and pours lustral water over the rice seeds, the sacred plough, the Lord of the Ceremony and over the nang thepi , the young women who, representing heavenly beings, will carry the blessed rice seeds the following day.

The second day of the ceremony is the one  awaited by everyone. It is a colourful event where ceremonial drum bearers wearing elaborated red garments walk in procession, followed by the Brahmin priests , the Lord of the Ceremony in a white gem-studded tonic, the young maidens dressed in traditional Thai attire and  two white oxen harnessed to a crimson plough with gold fittings, the “protagonists” of the ceremony.

All the rites that follow are the great importance as they foretell the conditions of the elements to be expected in the coming year. So, first comes the first ritual  that is the prediction of rainfall: The Lord of the Ceremony is offered three folded pieces of phanumg, the loincloth traditionally wore by Thai men, which are of different length, and his choice  will be indicative of the amount of the coming rains so necessary for rice cultivation.

So, the choice of a long loincloth is a sign of drought,  a short phanumg , which is worn above the knee, will assure a good supply of rain, perhaps a little bit too much, leaving the third option, a medium-length cloth as showing an average rainfall, the most favourable omen of the three.

Next, is the rite of the ploughing the field. The entire procession enters an area delimited by  bamboo fences decorated by flowers and leaves. It is lead by the Lord of Ceremony and the team of white oxen attached to the plough, followed by senior Brahmin priests with the four maidens just behind them, carrying gold and silver baskets,on a pole over their shoulders, filled with the blessed seeds. Drum an umbrella bearers complete the procession.

The lord of ceremony leads the sacred oxen nine times around the marked field . In the first three rounds the earth is ploughed in three deep furrows.Then, he scatters the sacred rice seeds into each furrow, completing the symbolic ploughing by walking around the furrows  three more times as the  seeds are covered up. The Brahmin priests sprinkle lustral water, chant prayers and blow conch sells as each round is completed.

Then comes the test for the success of the next harvest. As the oxen halt, they are offered seven bowls holding rice, corn, beans, sesame seeds, grass, water and wine. The crowd awaits nervously the choice of the oxen, and with it, the fate of the coming harvest. Any one of the grains, but preferable rice, will assure an abundant yield, while a choice of water is a prediction of heavy rains and floods, and wine is totally inauspicious.

At the end of the ritual comes the time for the farmers to get what they were waiting for: the barriers are removed and they rush to pick up the sacred seeds of rice…the more they get, the better, because they will take them back to their farms and mix with their own rice seeds , hoping for an exceptional harvest…

 

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Rite of the ploughing the field: The entire procession enters an area delimited by bamboo fences decorated by flowers and leaves. It is lead by the Lord of Ceremony and the team of white oxen attached to the plough, followed by senior Brahmin priests with the four maidens just behind them, carrying god and silver baskets,on a pole over their shoulders, filled with the blessed seeds. Sanan Luang, Bangkok. Photo Credit: TAT-Tourism Authority of Thailand.

 

An Interesting Note:

We would like to share with you images of the Royal Ploughing Ceremony , held on May 12th, 2017 which were published on the Bangkok Post and by REUTER . If you are interested in reading the full articles, please, visit these websites: 

Bangkok Post website: www.bangkokpost.com

Reuters website: www.reuters.com/article/us-thailand-ploughingceremony-idUSKBN18809J

 

Royal Ploughing Ceremony-The Lord of teh Plogh trhows rice paddy in air as a way blessing the ceremony-photo Credit Chanat Katanyu

The lord of ceremony leads the sacred oxen nine times around the marked field . In the first three rounds the earth is ploughed in three deep furrows. Then, he scatters the sacred rice seeds into each furrow, completing the symbolic ploughing by walking around the furrows three more times as the seeds are covered up. Photo credit: Chanat  Katanyu , published on the  Bangkok Post

Royal Ploughing Ceremony 2017 Sacred Oxen eat from items of food Photo Credit- Chanat Katanyu Bangkok Post

As the oxen halt, they are offered seven bowls holding rice, corn, beans, sesame seeds, grass, water and wine. The crowd awaits nervously the choice of the oxen, and with it, the fate of the coming harvest. Any one of the grains, but preferable rice, will assure an abundant yield, while a choice of water is a production of heavy rains and floods, and wine is totally inauspicious. Photo credit: Chanat Katanyu, published on the Bangkok Post

People rush past barriers to collect rice seeds after the annual royal ploughing ceremony in central Bangkok, Thailand, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

People rush past barriers to collect rice seeds after the annual royal ploughing ceremony in central Bangkok, Thailand, May 12, 2017. Photo Credit: REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

REFILE - ADDING BYLINEThai people collect rice grains after the annual royal ploughing ceremony in central Bangkok, Thailand, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

REFILE – ADDING BYLINEThai people collect rice grains after the annual royal ploughing ceremony in central Bangkok, Thailand, May 12, 2017. Photo Credit: REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

 

Rocket Festival – weekend that falls in the middle of  May

The Bun Bang Fai, or the Rocket Festival, takes place in the Isan , northeast Thailand. The origin of the  festival lies in the custom of firing rockets into the sky at the start of the rice-growing season to remind the sky god to send  the promised rain. Nowadays,  the festival takes the form of a competition to see whose rocket will stay aloft for the longest time. It is held annually over the weekend that falls in the middle of May.

This lively celebration is a typical northeastern village festival. It is a two-days affair  with serves as a social purpose besides begging for rain…and as the need for rain is strong, so , the festivities are reckless. Once again, old folk practices, are intertwined with Buddhism, where  acts of merits  are followed by carousing, dancing, and of course, the launching of the sky-rockets.

Because the festival attempt is to bring the so much need rain, the rockets must be very powerful. Every village produces its own rockets under the guidance of Buddhist monks, who held the secret formula for the explosives that propel the rockets.

The best known Rocket Festival is the colourful festival held in the town of Yasothorn, where large rockets are lavishly decorated, some are truly works of art. Many villages join he exciting competition hoping for their rocket to soar highest, thus assuring plenty rain and good fortune for their village. The rockets are classified by their size, which could vary between 2 to 9 meters, and amount of explosive that each can hold, which varies between 4 and 20 kilograms of gunpowder…

It is considered auspicious whether rains comes following the first day’s prayers, and the second day’s rocket launching. Like most Thai festivals, there are contests for the best dance group where the female dancers led by vigorous male drummers  dance along with competitive processions of  floats and as in Yasothorn, the rockets are parade in the streets . Many  are magnificent contraptions shaped like nagas with their heads rearing, symbolising the much need water.

The rockets are launched from tall trees with bamboo scaffolding or just metal stands situated, for safety, in the middle of a field. The first rocket will be launched which must shoot up straight,  and predictions are made with regard to the next season’s rains and harvest.

Then, the  rocket competition starts , where  the one lasting longer being the winner. Losers do not get away easily as their failure to win deprives their village of good fortune. They are , therefore thrown in the mud..a fate believed to be deserved.

This is what traditions dictate, but what is also true, is that nowadays, everyone is thrown into the mud, so if you are in Isan in these days, join the fun..but be advised that you might, eventually,  be catch in a “mud war”, so, be prepared,  wear appropriate cloths for that …

 

rocket-festival-bunbangfai-tat

The first rocket will be launched which must shoot up straight, and high, because a rocket that soars high into the sky assures good rainfall and abundant harvest in the coming season. Rocket Festival in Yasothorn, San. Photo Credit: TAT- Tourism Authority of Thailand.

tat-yasothon-bun-bangfai-rocket-festival

Competitive processions of floats are part of the Rocket Festival, and as it is seen in Yasothorn, Isan. Photo Credit: TAT- Tourism Authority of Thailand.

 

The Ghost festival –  Late May or early June, the date selected by the town mediums

This unique festival takes place at the beginning of the rainy season, late may or early June, at the village of Dan Sai, in Loei province, Isan. Unlike other northeastern festivals which take place in several locations, the Ghost festival can be seen only in Dan Sai.

Several weeks after  the Rocket Festival , the most unusual of all festivals take place. Although its main aim is to bring rain and ensure fertility of the earth, this event is also a coming of age rite, with ghosts portrayed by boys and young men.

The name Phi Ta Khon translates as ” masked ghosts” , but the festival re-enacts a scene from  one of the last  ten jatakas (stories about the Buddha’s former lives) and in the process blending Buddhism and Animism. In this case, it refers to the favourite jakata among Thais, the return of Prince Vessantara to his city after years of exile when the entire population went to meet him…even the ghosts could not resist joining the celebration. The result is a most and lively celebration. You will find more information about the Jakatas, visiting our page : Thai Beliefs

There are important figures in the village and in the Ghost Festival:  the Chao Pho Kuan , the village male medium who communicates the wishes of the village’s spirit to the villagers, including the date of the festival, the Cho Mae Nag Tiem, the female medium who assists with the ceremonies,  the head of the ceremony, the Phra Uppakut and four monks who give a buddhist touch to the whole affair. Male helpers and followers, known as saen, assist the Chao Pho Khan thought the festival.

The festival rituals begin before dawn of the first day when the village medium and the saen go to the Mun River to collect smooth and perfect white pebbles from the river bed taking them to Wat Son Chai, the temple of the village, and place them on the four pedestal shrines situated at the four directions of the wind.

From the temple the procession moves to the Chao Pho Kuan’s home for the traditional northeastern ceremony of bai si, the tying of  blessed white cords around the writs. In most bai si ceremonies, each person receives a blessed cord on his writs, but in this occasion, the participants tie the blessed strings on the outstretched arms of the Chao Pho Khan. Prayers and food follow, as “ghosts” start to gather for the main procession of the festival.

The procession comprises of humans and …ghosts and spirits. It begins with several competing groups of dancers and drummers beautifully attired in various northeastern styles. They are followed by the boisterous and jovial “ghosts” that increase in number as the precision gets under way.

To add drama to the occasion, “forest dwellers”, covered by leaves to indicate their habitat, join the procession. Also, paraded in the procession are enormous papier mâché figures  representing fertility:  several couples with the male with a string-operated phallus, along with buffaloes pulling a plough showing that the earth is ready for tilling. Then, a weird and petrifying sight is that of the “mud people” whose spectral appearance resemble risen corpses, affirm the joy shared by everyone at Prince Vessantara’s return. This is , after all, a spirit festival, so every form of ghoul is welcome…

Although every “ghost” adds a personal touch to its attire, is seems to be basic details common to all. The mask, the main item of the costume, is made from the base of a coconut stalk, the eyes are cut out and a stiff elephant trunk fashioned from thin wood is added as nose. Then, the entire surface of the mask is artistically decorated, a task that takes weeks. The mask is topped by a large lavishly decorated  tiara-like device made from local baskets used for sticky rice. The ‘ghost” carry gourds, the symbol of the much desired water, and buffalo bells are tied to the lower part of their backs jingling loudly to accentuate their frightening appearance.

The second day of the festivities is a day for acquiring merit, so shortly after noon the Chao Pho kuan, Chao Mae Nang Tiem, the Phra Uppakut and the four monks meet at a crossroads at  the edge of the village where a Buddhist ceremony takes place. When the praying ends, the festivals reverts to its lively and, it could be said, humorous rituals. The Chao Pho Khan is lifted on a palanquin -like litter, which in fact are the sky rockets that would be fired at the end of the day, and heads the procession toward Wat Son Chai, while tossing  to the crowd coins covered in silver and gold paper as the procession moves on.

Once inside the temple compound, the procession rounds the main sanctuary three times in counter-clockwise direction, as in funerals, being this is the only cycle that the “ghosts” can take, because they are not longer considered living among the living.

Next come  the firing of the rockets from a tall tree behind the temple. The first sky rocket is launched by the Chao Pho Khan  followed by that of the Chao Mae Nang time and all others. As in the Rocket Festival, a rocket that soars high into the sky assures good rainfall and abundant harvest in the coming season. The evening ends in the temple, with the reading of the sermon known as “The great Life”, which recounts the previous  human reincarnations of the Buddha as Prince Vessantara.

This is an extremely  amazing  opportunity to the northeast of Thailand and enjoy the fun of this festival. It is a rare, particular and beautiful colourful demonstration of old traditions that are still very much alive. Check the calendar, save the weekend, and organise a trip to Isan with your family or group of friends.You won’t regret it.

 

ghost-masks-at-ghost-festival-loei

In the Ghost festival, the mask is the main item of the costume, is made from the base of a coconut stalk, the eyes are cut out and a stiff elephant trunk fashioned from thin wood is added as nose. Then, the entire surface of the mask is artistically decorated, a task that takes weeks. The mask is topped by a large lavishly decorated tiara-like device made from local baskets used for sticky rice. Dan Sai, in Loei province, Isan. Photo Credit: Margot Weinmann

looking-around-the-mask-loei

We see here a young Thai man or teenager, looking very proud of his Ghost mask. Dan Sai, in Loei province, Isan. Photo Credit: Margot Weinmann

big-green-female-ghost-loei

Also, paraded in the procession are enormous papier mâché figures representing fertility, as this big green-female ghost . Dan sai, Loei, Isan. Photo Credit: Margot Weinmann

earthmen-loei

In the Ghost procession, a weird and petrifying sight is that of the “mud people” whose spectral appearance resemble risen corpses, affirm the joy shared by everyone at Prince Vessantara’s return. Dan Sai, Loei, Isan. Photo Credit: Margot Weinmann.

dancing-musician-loei

As in many Thai festivals, during the Ghost Festival, ether is time for music and dancing. Dan Sai , Loei, Nisan. Photo Credit: Margot Weinmann.

 June

Visakha Bucha – Full moon of sixth lunar month,  May or early June

This  national public holiday is the most important day on the Buddhist calendar because they are commemorated the three major events in the Buddha’s life: his birth, his attainment of enlightenment and his death or passing into Paranirvana. All three events are observed on the full moon of the sixth lunar month, Visaka, in late may or earlier June.

On Visaka Bucha day  people perform meritorious acts by bringing food in the morning to the monks in the temple. As on all Buddhist holidays , the evening rites starts with the reading of a sermon, then monks and worshipers cycle the temple shrine three times clockwise, called wien Thien in Thai, holding lotus buds, candles and incense sticks in their hands and raised in gesture of devotion.

Following the circumambulation people return to the prayer hall, and listen to recitations of the Buddha’s life and teachings, while five monks seated in a row chant the Visaka service,  thus concluding the service for this most significant holiday.

 

Visakha Bucha Day-After teh praying session , His Majesty led palace officials in performing teh clockwise circumambulation around teh chapel three times- pattaya Mail-

His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun has presided over a religious ceremony in observance of this year’s Visakha Bucha Day at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. After the praying session, the king lead the “wien thien” rite of circumambulation around the main hall of the temple. May, 10th 2017. Wat Phra Kaew, Grand Palace, Bangkok. Photo Credit: Pattaya Mail

Visaka buddha at Emerald Buddha Temple 2017-

His Majesty the King on Wednesday, May, 10th ,presided over a religious ceremony to mark Visakha Bucha Day at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, inside the Grand Palace complex. The religious ceremony was performed by a group of senior monks. HM King Maha Vajiralongkorn also led the “wien thien” rite of circumambulation around the main hall of the temple. He was accompanied by Her Royal Highness Princess Bajra Kitiyabha.  Wat Phra Kaew, Grand Palace, Bangkok. Photo Credit: The Nation

For reading the full article published by The Nation and Pattaya Mail, please, visit these websites: 

 

Mid- year Bank Holiday- July 1st

This is a holiday observed by all Finacial institutions in the country.

Asalaha Bucha Day – Full moon of the eight lunar month, late July or early August

As the full moon of the eight lunar month passes through the constellation of Asalaha, from this fact the name of the celebration, two significant Buddhist festivals take place, one following the other: Asalaha Bucha, making the anniversary of the Buddha’s first sermon delivered to his five faithful disciples at the Deer Park in Sarnath near Benares, and Khao Phansa, which marks the  start of the Buddhist Lent, both are  national public holidays.

On Asalaha Bucha Day,  people recall the fundamental teaching of the Buddha listening as monks chant their prayers and repeat the words of that first sermon. As in other Buddhist festivals, they carry lotus buds, lit candles, and incense sticks as they do the ” wien thien”, the triple circumambulation at dusk in a serene candlelight procession honouring the Buddha, his teachings ,the Dharma, and the order of monkhood, the Sangha.

Khao Phansa – First day waning moon eight lunar month, late July or early August

The day of Khao Phansa follows Asalaha Phansa, marking the beginning of Phansa, the Buddhist Lent. In Thai, the name means “to enter the rainy season”, and indeed, Phansa coincides with the rainy season which lasts three months, from July to October. It is a time when all monks are confined to their monasteries and refrain from travelling or leaving the temple for any length of time.

Like most Buddhist traditions, this practice dates from the early days of Buddhism when monks walked in the country side preaching. With few roads to go along, monks had to traverse newly planted paddy fields in the monsoon rains, inadvertently trampling the tender shoots, which goes against Buddhist precepts of not killing alive elements. And then, as a result of walking over mud , their robes became filthy, soaked by rain,  and soiled by mud.

Since all monks were allowed to own only one set of robes each, the Buddha, according to popular account, asked the monks to stay in their monasteries during the rainy season to protect the rice shoots. In fact, staying in one place, was a pre- Buddhist habit of the wandering ascetics  of India who were unable to travel trough swamps and swollen rivers at that time of the year.

The monks use this period of retreat for studying and teach newly ordained monks who, according to tradition, enter the monkhood shortly before the rainy season. This is a significant period for all Buddhists because it also commemorates the legend of the Buddha’s ascent to Tavatimsa Heaven to preach to his mother who had died when he was only seven years old.

In preparation for this season, public ceremonies for acquiring merits take place. So is time for  individuals and groups present to the monks with items they will need during the period of retreat, as candles, food and bathing robes that can only be used once Phansa has began.

Lighting a Phansa candle is considered an especial meritorious art as the candle is supposed to remain lit and  to illuminate the temple during the three months of duration of the lent. It is customary to bring a large candle as an offering to the temple, which is an occasion of great festivity. As on other Buddhist holidays, flowers, candles and incense are offered by worshippers at the temple .

In the Grand Palace a special royal ceremony is held, where the king, or a person appointed by him, changes the golden robes of the Emerald Buddha, the most revered image of the kingdom. The Emerald Buddha  has three robe changes annually coinciding with the onset of the hot, wet and cool seasons.

Throughout Khao Phansa people continue to bring gifts to the monks , consisting mainly of items as honey, sugar, fruits, and medicine. These gifts are presented with an appropriated prayer. The weeks of Khao Phansa mark a period of prayer and contemplations for monks and laity, and a time when people make resolutions to become a better persons. The period ends on the full moon in October, at the end of the rainy season.

King Vajiralongkorn’s Birthday- 28th July

Celebration of King Vajiralongkorn- Rama X- ‘s birthday.

 

August

Queen of Rama IX ‘s Birthday – August 12th

This is a National public holiday commemorating the birthday of  the Queen Sirikit, wife of late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and mother of the current King Vajiralongkorng, king Rama X. A descendent of the Chakri dynasty herself, widely acclaimed for her beauty, Queen Sirikit’s name has been considered synonym of Thailand  for many years.

Born in Thailand on  Friday 12 August 1932, the Queen of Rama IX gained much knowledge and experience in her youth , having been educated in Thailand and Europe. She joined her family in England , where his father served as ambassador to the court of St James’s and later, as ambassador to Denmark and France, giving her the opportunity  to master several languages.

It was in Europe that she met Prince Bhumibol, her future husband, an event that would change her entire life as a 1949 engagement was followed by a 1950 wedding , the King’s coronation only days later occasion in which  Sirikit was elevated to the full rank of Queen.

Queen Sirikit took on her new position with confidence, displaying skills of a caring mother, while instilling a sense of duty for the country on her four children. In recognition  of these attributes, 12th August, the day of her birthday , has been observed since 1976 as National Mother’s Day.

The Queen’s concern for the social conditions of the people, particularly the plight of farmers and low-income labourers in rural areas led her to find ways to supplementing their income, so the foundation for the Promotion of Supplementary Occupations and Related Techniques (SUPPORT) was established in 1976. You could find more information  visiting our page: Thai Monarchy

In the past only a monarch’s birthday was designated as national public holiday, but this changed when Queen Sirikit became regent  during the King’s period of monkhood. Upon his return, King Bhumibol Adulyadej conferred on her the honoured tittle of Somdej Phra Borom Rajini Nath with translates as ” Full Reining Queen”.

For several days the cities of all Thailand are  festively decorated with blue flags ,the colour of HM  the Queen, because  culturally, light blue is the color associated to Friday. In accordance to that, people usually dress in light blue, to show their love and respect for they beloved Queen.

 

October

Chulalongkorn Day – October 23rd

National public holiday commemorating the day that King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) passed away, in 1910. A great reformer and modernizer of Siam,  he was one of the outstanding monarchs of the Chakri dynasty.

Every year King Chulalongkorn , holder the title “The Great”, bestowed on only few Thai monarchs, is remembered by the entire nation. People from  all ways of life gather at the foot of his equestrian statue, located in the Royal Plaza, Dust area in Bangkok, to honour their loved and respected King.

Customs dictate that on the eve of his memorial day, Buddhist services are held near the statue followed by a Brahmin ceremony while that early on Chulalongkorn Day, groups of students, civil workers and many others pay obeisance in front of the king’s statue, bow to him, light candles and incense, and place flowers at its foot .Organisations and prosperous citizens place elaborate floral wreaths on easels, many including Chulalognkorn’s picture in the arrangement.

In the afternoon the  monarch  pay respects to their great ancestor at the royal Plaza lighting candles and laying floral wreath at his statue before heading to the Amarintra Hall in the grand Palace to pay homage to his ashes and to the Buddha image which were casted during his reign. Please, note here that every Chakri king casts a Buddha image for each year of his reign, but only one image symbolises his reign.

Memorial  rites are held accompanied by Buddhist chants, remembering once more King Chulalongkorn the Great, a brilliant man whose reign was a brilliant era in Thailand’s history.

For more information, see our page about Thai Monarchy

 

King Prajadhipok -Rama VII- Museum- BKK- 9-04-2017 29 (1)

A group photograph of Queen Saovabha with her sons and grandchild, Chula Chakrapongse, during the Royal Lying in State Rites of King Chulalongkorn in 1910. Standing from left to right: Prince Asadang, Prince Vajiravudh ( future Rama VI), Prince Chakrapongse. Sitting from left to right: Prince Jutatuj, Prince Chula Chakrapongse ( son of Prince Chakrapongse) and Prince Prajadhipok, (future Rama VII). Photo exhibited at King Prajadhipok Museum, Bangkok. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

Equestrian statue of King Chulalongkorn Rama 5

The equestrian statue of King Chulalongkorn , Rama V, was erected in 1908 two years before his death from a fund raised by the Thai people, in the Royal Plaza located in front of Ananta Samakhon Throne Hall which is seen in the background . Dusit Palace , Bangkok. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

Boat Races – Full moon eleventh lunar monthlate October 

As the monsoon rains stop and Phansa comes to an end, people near rivers engage in the physically demanding recreation of boat racing. This ancient practice take place during the full moon of the eleventh lunar month, usually October and coinciding with the Ohk Phansa celebrations , when the water level is at its highest . Considered a national sport, boat racing events are arranged annually all over Thailand.

An unbroken tradition of boat racing existed for the last 200 years in Nan, close to the Thai-Lao border. Traditionally the races were sponsored by the monasteries in Nan, with the monks rowing the boats giving them , in this way, the much-needed physical outlet after the three months of retreat during the rains. Most races are still sponsored by temples situated by rivers, in a style reminiscent of the past, but the the rowing is done by anyone willing to join.

The race boats are long and can accommodate many rowers, the number  depending of their size, being modelled mostly  from hollowed-out trees. Decorative motifs include mythological beings, particularly aquatic ones like the naga, to enhance the invincibility of the boat are applied or painted on their surfaces.

These races are fun – filled events for both rowers and spectators where the ultimate purpose is just to race and win the coveted prize of Champion of the River. It is  amazing to see the well coordinated teams of skilful rowers propelling the boats with great speed and stamina, racing neck to neck almost to the finish line. At the conclusion of the races prices are present to the winers , which is followed by great festivities.

We would like to share with you a gallery of images of one of these amazing events:

Ohk Phansa – Full moon eleventh lunar month, late October  

A special day marks the end of the three- month rainy season. Falling on the full moon of the eleventh  lunar month, this occasion is known as Ohk Phansa and litterally means “leaving the period of rains”.

It also signifies that monks are not longer confined to their temple and may travel once again around the countryside. The monks prepare for the day by tidying their robes and shaving their eyebrows and heads, which are done twice a month, one at the time of new moon and again during the full moon.

The legend of Ok Phansa has it that the Lord Buddha after staying in heaven preaching to his mother  for three months, he completed his mission and returned to earth. People welcomed his return with great joy and excitement. Even the gods and goddesses joined in the ceremonies welcoming the Buddha.

Descending from heaven on the triple stairways of gold, silver, and precious gems were an assortment of angels, the monks who followed the Buddha to heaven, and the Buddha himself at the center. The people made special offerings of food, flowers, and gifts to celebrate his return.

On Ohk Phansa people gather at the temple for morning prayers, all through the day they honour the chedi and other sacred structures in the temple compound and after dark , place lit candles around the entire temple compound and in front of their houses.

The many flickering lights announce the end of the rainy season retreat , and the beginning of the season for merit-granting ceremonies.

Ceremonies for Acquiring Merit

As monks emerge from their three- months retreat, starting to walk again along the cities’ streets and travel through the country side, devotees offer them food and gifts as a gesture of thanks for perpetuating the Buddhist beliefs during the Phansa period.

Every year from about mid -October to mid-November, Thais people engage in merit-gaining ceremonies, which are observed all over Thailand, and, although similar in nature, might have certain regional variances. Here, we will describe only two: Thot Kathin and the Royal Barge Ceremony.

 

Thot Kathin – From full moon of eleventh lunar month to full moon of the twelfth lunar month 

Acquiring merit  by bringing gifts to monks in the temple is an old Buddhist tradition practised throughout the year, but it is more significant when is done in the month following  Ohk   Phansa. Therefore, the month that goes  from the full moon of the eleventh lunar month, that falls in October,  to the full lunar moon of the twelfth lunar month, falling in November  is called Thot Kathin, which literally means ” laying down robes”, where Thot means means to place down and Khatin referring to the monk’ robes. Of all gifts given to monks, robes are of the greatest importance, lending to the festival its name.

Monk’s robes are pieced together according to a traditional practice, a task that must be completed in a single day, to show that there is not any special effort made to enhance them, indicating also a merely functional use. The saffron colour, believed to desinfect the old clothes, is derived from plants and tree barks, thus, reproducing the variety of shades found in nature, from pale yellow to dark brown, although nowadays the use of chemical dyes has become a common practice .

The origin of this tradition goes back to the old days of the Buddha. The story says that thirty pious monks travelled a long distance to see the Buddha at the end of the rainy season, when the roads were still muddy and wet,  ruining their robes that become wet and soiled. The Buddha at receiving them , saw the poor state of their cloths, therefore  allowing his disciples to get new ones. This ancient tradition continued until these days.

Ceremonies usually begins with prayers in the temple on the eve of the festival. The following day, in early morning, the procession head to the selected temple, led by music and lively drumming.

The robes, each composed of three pieces, a shoulder shawl, a loin cloth and an outer robe, are brought to the temple and carried around the main sanctuary three times then, the robes along with another  items as food, toiletries and simple utensils are presented on elaborate trays to the monks shortly past noon. Sometimes money is offered for the maintenance of the temple, the notes arranged as leaves on a silver- and- gold coloured miner trees.

When Kathin ceremonies are completed in temple, two makara ( crocodrile) flags are placed at the entrance to indicate that it has received the annual Kathin donations, and so, worshippers  go to find another temple for acquiring their seasonal merit.  Ceremonies for acquiring merit are conducted by groups or by individuals, rich and poor alike, bringing merits to the donors while benefit the temples.

luang-pho-to-a-seated-buddha-image-in-wat-pa-lelai-worawihan-suphan-buri-13

Money left in a paper tree. In the background, Luang Pho To , the seated  Buddha image at Wat Palelai Worawihan, Suphan Buri. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Money arranged in a tree left for maintenance of a temple. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

 Royal Barge Procession- From full moon of eleventh to full moon of the twelfth lunar month 

Tradition dictates that the King, as keeper of the Buddhist faith, is customarily the first to present the robes to the monks. He presides over the Thot Kathin ceremony at a temple of royal rank, travelling there by land or water. The Royal Barge Procession is held when the King travels from the Grand Palace, once the home of royalty, to Wat Arun, or Temple of Dawn, to present a robe to the abbot.

Dating back to the thirteenth century, in the early days of Sukhothai Kingdom, the Royal Barge Procession is a majestic event, of grand vessels and colourfully attired men, and it extends over one kilometre in length, involving fifty one barges and close to 2000 crew members, mostly oarsmen.

The grandest barges in the royal fleet are three and occupy the centre of the procession. The most distinguished, in order of importance, is the Suphanahongs, the golden swan, modelled after the vehicle of the Hindu god Brahma, and it is gilded and mirrored, with stylised wings flowing backwards, depicting the swan flying. This barge carries the King during the Royal Barge Procession. The crystal tassel, ending in cuffed yak’s hair, is suspended from the golden swan’s beack and indicates the  King’s presence on the boat.

Second in rank is the Anantanagaraj, the naga- headed regal barge and carries the King’s gift of robes to the monks during the Thot Kathin ceremony. The third principal barge, and the oldest in the present fleet, which has no figurehead, but  its prow curves in majestic elegance instead, is the Nekajatphuchong. It was  built by the command of King Chulalongkorn, Rama V, and  carries princes and other royalty.

The dramatic effects of these magnificent barges are enhanced by the distant sounds of cadence chanting, wailing horns, and muffled drums, sounds that drift ahead of the procession and mesmerise anticipating spectators. It s a magical experience.

The Royal Barge Procession has been a colourful event in Thai culture for several centuries, but it has been restricted in recent years due to the high cost of maintaining the fleet, the great number of people required in the procession, and the length of time needed for the preparations.

 

If Only I’d known… 

  • If you are lucky enough to be in Bangkok  when a Royal Barge Procession  is held  or already living in Pattaya, do not think twice. Go.
  • An excellent idea  would be to book in one of the hotels that are at the bank of the  Chao Phraya River, because  these are privileged positions to enjoy this spectacle, but you must book your room early, very early as soon as you get notice of the event.
  • Other way would be , going towards  the bank of the Chao Phraya  very, very early  trying to find  a good spot  from which you would be able to see the Royal Barge Procession , but think that thousands are thinking the same thing…

 

An Interesting Note:

Now, we would like to share with you a story  and pictures of the Royal Barge Procession held in opportunity of late  King Bhumibol Adulyadej’ s birthday  on December 5th , 2012,  that we found reading the Bangkok Post :

…” Camera shutters clicked like a gigantic swarm of crickets, tourists gaped in awe and thousands of Thais turned out once again to honour the majestic spectacle of the royal barge procession along the Chao Phraya River yesterday. Every available vantage point was packed as the elegant ceremony displayed the country’s strong cultural and emotional attachment to the royal institution…

You could read the full story visiting: Bangkok Post website: www.bangkokpost.com/learning/learning-news/320526/royal-barge-procession

 

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Full view of The royal barge Anekajatbhujonga. Photo credit: Apichit Jinakul – Bangkok Post

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The regal Suphannahongsa royal barge carefully makes it way along the Chao Phraya after leaving Tha Wasukri pier. Photo Credit: Chanat Katanyu- Bangkok Post

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Representing His Majesty the King, His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn rides the Suphannahongsa royal barge on the Chao Phraya River for the royal krathin (robe presentation) ceremony at Wat Arun yesterday. The royal barge procession is part of celebrations marking the King’s 85th birthday on Dec 5.Phto Credit: Chanat Katanyu- Bangkok Post

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The Narayana Song Suban Rama IX as seen during the last dress rehearsal. Photo Credit: Chanat Katanyu- Bangkok Post

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Thousands line Chao Phraya to watch the dazzling Royal Barge Ceremony. Photo Credit: Apinya Wipatayotin- Bangkok Post

 

November

Loy Krathong –  Full moon of twelfth lunar month , late November 

Loy Krathong , is celebrated all throughout Thailand, but it is not observed as a public holiday. One month after the end of Phansa, on the full moon of the twelfth lunar month, usually November, people in Thailand head to rivers, ponds, canals, and here in Pattaya, to the sea, to float their krathongs.

A krattong is a floating offering traditionally made of banana  leaves to form a cup-like receptacle in the shape of a lotus flower. Loy means “to float” hence the name of this widely popular and impressive festival, Loy Krathong , or “to float one’s offering”.

The story says that these offerings, set afloat upon the water, are sent to Mae Klongkha, the goddess of waters, to appease  and ask her forgiveness for  polluting the water throughout the year. The ancient people of India already recognised the value of the water, therefore, worshipped the goddess of Ganges as the giver of life, a concept that reached  Sukhothai kingdom about 700 years ago, where the name  Ganges was pronounced as Klongkla…since then, the name of the festival.

As we have seen, most of the Thai holidays and festivals evolved from ancient legends, Loy Krathon is not an exception. It is said that this ceremony of offering has its origin  in the reign of a great Sukhothai ruler, believed to be  King Ramkhamhaeng. It began when a young maiden by the name of Nang Nopamas wished to honour the water spirits during the festivities which marked the end of the rainy season.

Daughter of a Brahmin priest at the King’s court, Nang Nopamas  followed her father’s tradition by making a delicate float to offer to Mae Khongkha. It was Nang Nopamas  the first to craft a float in the shape of an open  lotus flowering who, as an act of respect,  offered the krathong to the King, who accepted and  floated  it down on the river. This attractive way of offering appealed greatly to  the people of Sukhothai, who started to repeat it annually and progressively, became integrated into Thai culture until these days.

The legendary Nang Nopamas is represented each year by a beautiful young woman, selected to reign over the  festivities. Traditional krathongs are still made  in the shape of a lotus flower, made of banana leaves and decorated with flowers, lit candles and incense sticks and occasionally a coin is included as  a symbolic offering to the water spirits.

Although the spirit and meaning of the Loy Krathong festival is asking forgiveness to the water goddess for polluting the waters, ironically,  in recent times, artificial materials replaced   the natural elements  utilised for making the traditional kratons . In this sad , but economically convenient way, spastic and styrofoam took over  the slices of banana trees.

Very soon an undesirable and  negative environmental impact  started to be seen  when klongs , canals and  rivers started to be polluted with all these non biodegradable materials, to the point of provoking  the death of great number of fish after eating them. A second but not lesser negative effect is the potential blocking of pipes and conduits in the cities  due to the huge number of kratongs that are left adrift on canals, and rives that cross them.

So, during the last years, based on environmentally concerns, the use of natural and biodegradable materials, as bread which could be eaten by fish, has been strongly encouraged. Although the situation is getting better, it is far form being resolved, and, very year,  the following day of Loy Krathong is still a nightmare for city officials who have to deal  with the cleaning of all sources of water to avoid being clogged.

As  we have  seen not a few times , when talking about  Thai beliefs and traditions, the origins of  Loy Krathong  are intertwined with ancient beliefs: basically, as in the case in Nang Nopamas’ legend,  it is an animistic celebration to honour the water spirits; yet, it relates to the Chinese River Festival when candles are lit on floats to guide home the spirits of the drowned and also coincides with India’s Diwali Festival, when thousands of sparkling lights commemorate Rama and Sita’s return to Ayodhya, without forgetting its  strong Buddhist connotations, relating to a specific episode of the Buddha’s life.

It was said that while the Buddha was meditating, before attaining enlightenment , he wouldn’t eat , and in one occasion, he was offered a meal inside a golden bowl which he cast upstream, against the strong current. It drifted until  ultimately sank and landed on the naga king, who recognise the bowl as that of a future Buddha, and rising from the waters he begged Sidharta Gautama to press his foot on the sand leaving his print there forever.

Consequently, when people set their floats upon the water, their paying tribute to the Buddha, in which  the candle venerates the Buddha with its light, while the  floating of the krathong symbolises letting go of one’s hatred, anger and defilements.

And what is a feature common to many cultures, people believe that with proper prayers and offerings they can rid themselves of their sins. So it is very common to see that before launching the krathong on the water, people pray or make a wish .

Loy Krathong is one of, if not the most beautiful festival that you can see while living in Thailand. And it is  a celebration which  you can participate in. Just  look for a source of water, canal, river, or if you are already living in Pattaya, one of the reservoirs or just the sea, wait for midnight , and put you krathong to float under the light of the big moon…

 

We would like to share with you images of this particular , charming festival:

The Elephant Round Up – Third weekend of November

In South -East Asia, and Thailand isn’t an exception,  elephants are treated with high regard due to the fact that for centuries nations depended of these sturdy animals  for transportation, work and warfare, so, regular hunts were held to capture them. In Thailand, most of the round ups took place in the northeast where lush jungles once grew, with occasional excursions into Cambodia.

But then, with the imposition of  strict borders , shrinking jungles and the decreasing number of elephants in the kingdom, hunts no longer take place. Therefore, in order to avoid  forgetting the importance of the elephant in Thai culture and history, but also to generate funds for the hunters who have lost their source of income, an elephant round up is held every year as an entertainment in the city  of Surin, northeast Thailand, which has become the centre of this exciting activity that it is now a fixed event in the Thai calendar.

The Surin Elephant Round Up began as a modest event that grew into a fair with a grand show involving more than hundred elephants, from different areas of Thailand allowing the animals and their mahouts to display their skills and discipline.

For those who are new in Thailand, a mahout is the elephant’s keeper and trainer who takes care of the animal since the moment of its capture, or birth, what generates   a special relationship and  strong bond  between trainer and elephant. Therefore, the Annual Round Up is the opportunity that the mahout has to proudly exhibit his elephant, both participating in various shows and competitions.

This is another opportunity that you have not only for knowing more about Thai culture and traditions, but , also for enjoying a weekend among these sturdy but lovely animals. So, check the calendar and save the third weekend for getting to Surin, in the northeast of the country. You will not be disappointed.

The Elephant Round Up, which lasts a weekend, starts on Saturday with the feeding ceremony and then, on Sunday the main show, when you will see: the ceremony of blessing the lasso used in elephants’ hunts followed by an elephant parade, a simulated hunt, a demonstration of skill in timber work and the re-enacment of an ancient battle where two full armies headed by each king make their entrance  and then, among canon fires, smoke and other effects, the two kings charge one against the other deciding the fate of their own army , followed by a soccer  match between two elephants team which starts when a extra large ball is kicked around and chased all over the field until one or both teams score.

The Elephant Round Up ends in a grand procession transporting royalty with great fanfare. Because all animals participate of this part of the event ,one comes to the realisation of the  incredible number of elephants that have participated of the whole spectacle. Hundreds. Just extraordinary.

After the ceremony, the mahouts rode their elephants all the way back into to  the city, creating an unusual spectacle of elephant traffic jams, and it is then when the public is able to be close to the elephants to feed them, with  the  baby elephants robing the moment, always under the vigilant look of their mahouts, and their proud mothers.  Hundreds of pictures are taken. The festivities continue throughout the weekend.

This is an exceptional event that we should make sure to see at least, once.

 

We have prepared some images that we hope would able to transmit what this spectacle is about. Enjoy the show…

December

National Father’s Day- late King Adulyadej Bhumibol ‘s Birthday – December 5th

This is a  national public holiday that celebrates the birthday of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great, “the beloved King and father of all Thai people.” It is also National Father’s Day.

During  King Bhumibol’s reign, all Thailand dressed in yellow on this special day, as the King was born on a Monday, the day of the week with which yellow is associated.

Constitution Day – December 10th

This date is observed as a national  public holiday and commemorates the first constitution of Thailand which came into effect in 1932. It marks the transformation of Thailand from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy.
For more information, see our page about Thai Monarchy

 

King Prajadhipnk, Rama VII signing the constitution

King Prajadhipnk, Rama VII, signs The constitution of the Siam Kingdom on December, 10th, 1932. That day marks the start of a new era for the kingdom of Siam, as constitutional monarchy. Photo Credit: belongs to Public Domain

 

Christmas Day – December 25th

Christmas is a Christian tradition and doesn’t belong to Thai culture. But Thai people love to offer gifts to each other and Christmas, like elsewhere, has also become a commercial and marketing event. Not surprisingly,  extraordinarily huge, glamorous Christmas trees can be found in Bangkok’s shopping centers.

 

Navidad en tierras budistas, arbolito y pesebre en casa de los Berras, diciembre 2015 3

New Years’ Eve – December 31st

All over Thailand New Year’s eve is celebrated with great fanfare and fireworks. But if you are already living in Pattaya, the main celebrations organised by the Municipality  Hall are held at Bali Hai pier where an incredible number of fire works and lanterns lit Pattaya’s sky . Amazing. Unforgettable . Imperdible.

 

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New Year’s eve. Regardless of the city you are in, you will easily notice when the new year starts . Hundred, of fireworks lit the sky. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

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Not only fireworks…thousand of lanterns are lit and send very high into the sky to celebrate New Year…again, regardless of the city you are. Photo Credit: Silvia Muda

 

Summarised Calendar

We have included below a table with all national public holiday, festivals and observances, that we hope, will help to have an idea of what to expect , in order to plan our short holidays, during the  year   with just a quick look.

January 1st New Year  National public holiday
January , 2nd Saturday Children’s Day  National observance, might be public holidays for schools
 January 16th Teacher’s Day National observance, might be public holidays for schools
 February, 14th  Valentine’s Day  Observance
 Mid February- First Day lunar calendar Chinese New Year Observance. Regional public holiday : only in Narathiwat, Pattani,Sala and Satun provinces
 February-April  Kite- Flying Season Old tradition
Full moon 3rd month Thai lunar calendar( February or March) Makha Bucha Day  National public holiday
 April, 6th  Chakri Day  National public holiday
 April 13th-15th  Songkran Festival  National public holiday
 May, 1st  Labour Day  National public holiday
 May, date defined by royal astrologers  Royal Ploughing Ceremony Day Government and  Public Sector  holiday
Mid May, weekend  Rocket Festival Regional festival
 Late May, early June, date defined by village’s medium  Ghost Festival  Regional Festival
 Full moon Sixth moon month, late May, early June  Visakha Bucha Day  National public holiday
 July, 1st  Bank Mid-year holiday Holiday observed by all Financial institutions
 Full moon eight lunar month, late July or early August  Asalaha Bucha Day  National public holiday
 First day waning moon, eight lunar month, late July or early August Khao Phansa  National Observance
 July, 28th King Vajiralongkorn’s birthday  National public holiday
 August, 12th  Queen Sirikit’s birthday- Mother’s Day  National public holiday
 October, 13th the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Day  National public holiday
 October, 23rd King Chulalongkorn ‘s Day  National public holiday
 Full moon eleventh lunar month, late October  Boat races  Sporting Festival- Old tradition
Full moon eleventh lunar month, late October  Okh Phansa  National Observance
 From full moon eleventh lunar month to twelfth lunar month  Thot Kratin  National Observance
From full moon eleventh lunar month to twelfth lunar month- Date to be fixed Royal Barge Procession  Royal festival
 Full moon twelfth lunar month, late November  Loi Krathong  National Observance.It might be observed  as holiday for some sectors
 Third weekend november  Elephant Round Up  Regional festival
 December,5th  Father’s Day- King Bhumibol birthday  National public holiday
 December, 10th  Constitution Day  National public holiday
 December, 25th Christmas Day  Observance

 

 

Note:

As we have said, the content of this page is the result of our research, plus some comments of our own. We gathered and put together interesting  information that we considered  it would be of help and which we had found while reading the book listed below. So, you could find all this information and much more, reading :

Traditional Festivals in Thailand by Ruth Gerson. Although this edition is sold out, fortunately, we were told that a new updated edition in doing out, soon. These are very good news indeed.

 

We just hope that you had enjoyed reading  this page, and that we had been of help. If you have some comment, please, lets know. In this way, we could keep linking Pattaya together.

 

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