Tuesday, July 21, 2015

In the spirit of Vassa

Like many things in Ladchado, Ayutthaya Province, the candle festival is celebrated on the water with hundreds of small sampans.

BUDDHISTS ALL over the country will be celebrating the Khao Phansa Festival over the next 10 days as they mark the beginning of Vassa, as the three-month Rains Retreat is known. As spiritual as it is festive, it is a time when devotees and Buddhists offer candles to the temples, in a gesture reminiscent of the days before the advent of electricity when the monks would use the candles to provide light as they chanted Buddhist texts throughout the night.

From Suphan Buri to Nan provinces, on canal boat and on elephant back, the festival is celebrated in different ways with parades, floats, cultural shows, folk music and dance and other fun activities.

We look at the traditions in various parts of the country.


When: July 15-31

Billed as Thailand's best candle festival, Ubon Ratchathani has taken this Buddhist celebration to the world. The festival, which runs throughout July, culminates with huge, decorated candles being formally presented to local temples in a form of merit making for Khao Phansa, which is known colloquially as the Buddhist Lent. The Northeast province prepares for the grand event with a series of showcases and activities designed to draw visitors. A photo exhibition of amazing candle carvings decorates the arrival lounge at Ubon Ratchathani airport while in town, international artists show off their skills as they compete in a wax-carving competition. Some of the designs are avant-garde, others more traditional. The artists exhibit their wax art in Thungsrimyang Square in the city centre. A sightseeing tour of the candle-making communities is a must. Trips to the Wat Sripradoo, Wat Thungsrimuang and Wat Pholphaen communities offer a look at how the big candles are taking shape, as local artists and Buddhist devotees cut and melt beeswax and pour it into moulds to form components of the huge, elaborate candles and their decorations.


When: August 1

If the extravagant candle float is not your cup of tea, then check out the humble wax-offering rite in Wiang Sa, Nan Province. On August 1, two days after the full moon, residents of Wiang Sa district will offer small candles to the Buddhist monks at Wat Buen Yeun. Similar to almsgiving, this unique yet original candle offering has been an act of virtue since the early 1800s. With the monks staying in their temples for three months during the Buddhist Lent, the candles will be used for learning and practising Buddhism by night.


July 30-August 1

Suphan Buri Province organises its candle festival at Wat Pa Lelai Woravihara with a showcase of beautifully carved candles. Strictly speaking, it's the best alternative if you cannot make it to Ubon Ratchathani Ratchathani for the eye-popping float and candle carving. The artisans, locals say, are the best though they do include "hired guns" from Ubon Ratchathani. Suphan folk have a reputation for folksy entertainment so visitors can expect plenty of fun - and slightly cheeky - dances and performances.


When: July 31 - August 1

Nakhon Phanom Candle Festival is held at Phra That Phanom, one of the most revered pagodas along the Mekong River. Like elsewhere across the country, the ceremony will be celebrated in a faithful and festive fashion. The colourful procession of exquisitely carved candles, Miss Candle Beauty Contest, classical dancing, and a mass merit-making ceremony lift the spirits in more ways than one.


When: July 29 -30

A candle procession and merit making on elephant back are the highlights of this annual event, which takes place at the Monument of Phaya Surin Phakdi Sri Narong Changwang. Unlike elsewhere in the country, the Northeast province of Surin pays homage to its traditional beasts of burden in marking the arrival of the Buddhist Lent, with 100 elaborately decorated elephants carrying some of the city's most highly revered monks around Surin in a unique and memorable merit-making ceremony.


When: July 30 - August 1

The Nakhon Ratchasima Candle Procession Festival is staged at the Tao Suranaree Monument. It promises visitors floats of carved candles, a candle procession and numerous merit-making activities. Ahead of the province's grand celebration, Phimai and Chokchai districts hold the candle festivals to mark the start of the Buddhist Lent on July 29.


When: July 29

The annual Tak Bat Dok Mai, or Flower Offering festival, returns to Wat Phra Phutthabat in Saraburi on July 29 to mark the beginning of the three-month-long rains retreat. More than 3,000 Buddhist monks, mostly from Phra Dhammakaya temple, are expected to attend this year's event. The festival celebrates the blooming of the local flower known as Dok Khao Phansa at the beginning of Vassa. The offerings start at 6am. Saraburi is about 90 minutes by car to Bangkok's north.


When: July 30

The riverside community of Ladchado, Ayutthaya Province, will be celebrating the annual Candle Festival along the river on July 30, as its residents prepare for the arrival of the Buddhist Lent. Like many things in Ladchado, the |candle festival Nis celebrated on the water with hundreds of small sampans decorated with flowers and colourful parasols bobbing in the water as they emerge from the far side of canal. Tucked away in Phak Hai district, Ladchado is about 40 kilometres west of downtown Ayutthaya.

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