Khao Phansa (Candle Festival)

Month: July
Venue: nationwide (with special highlights at Tung Si Muang, Ubon Ratchathani and Phra Phutthabat shrine, Saraburi)

With the arrival of the eighth lunar month in July, Thai Buddhists all over the kingdom celebrate Khao Phansa, one of the most important events in the religious calendar. Celebrations are held in Buddhist temples all over Thailand, but the most colorful can be found in Saraburi and Ubon Ratchathani.

'Khao Phansa', in Thai, refers to the beginning of the Buddhist Lent. During this time, Buddhist monks are restricted to their temples for a period of three months. Young men over 20 years, who have not yet ordained as monks, may take this opportunity to enter the monkhood to observe Buddhist teachings.

Stories of the Buddhist Rains Retreat can be traced back to the beginning of the Buddhist era. At that time, the Lord Buddha saw that monks wandering outside the temple compound might damage growing crops or accidentally kill insects, so he proclaimed that it would be better for the monks to observe the teachings and practice meditation at the monasteries instead.

Celebrations for the start of the Buddhist Lent take place all over Thailand but the most elaborate ceremonies are held in Saraburi where there is 'Tak Bat Dok Mai' (offerings of flowers to monks) and in Ubon Ratchathani, where the Candle Festival is held.

In Ubon Ratchathani, 629 km northeast of Bangkok, the Candle Festival is the province's most popular annual event. On the days before the event, the local authorities will be busy preparing the venue at Thung Si Muang, a public field, similar to Bangkok's Sanam Luang. At the same time, local artisans make ornately carved beeswax candles of various sizes and shapes. On the day of the festival, the fabulous candles are paraded around the town on colorful floats, accompanied by displays of religious devotion. After the procession, they are presented to local temples.

Saraburi, just 108 km from Bangkok, holds the 'Tak Bat Dok Mai' festival to mark the beginning of the Buddhist Lent. The event takes place at the shrine of the Buddha's Footprint (Phra Phuttabaht shrine). The event draws devout Buddhists from all parts of Thailand.