Khao Phansa (Buddhist Lent Day)
Khao Phansa Day marks the beginning of the Buddhist Rains Retreat, a three-month period for Buddhist monks to seclude themselves in temples and for the Buddhist faithful to rededicate themselves to their religious precepts.
As with many religious holidays in Thailand, the Buddhist Rains Retreat, known globally as Vassa, is commemorated in accordance to the traditional lunar calendar, and therefore, the specific dates vary each year. This year, Vassa will commence on July 25th and will formally end on October 21st.
Many Names, One Meaning
Khao Phansa goes by many names: celebrated worldwide as Vassa, it is also known internationally as Bhuddist Lent or the Buddhist Rains Retreat. This period provides Buddhist monks time for solitude. This practice of physical dedication to religious beliefs can be seen reflected in other religions as well, such as Ramadan in Islam, Lent in Christianity, and even Lohri in Hinduism.
Historically, the period of the Buddhist Rains Retreat was common practice in India during the time of the Lord Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama (6th century BCE). Following his enlightenment, the Lord Buddha is believed to have spent the rainy season sheltered in the region of Banaras, laying the foundations for the Rains Retreat.
This practice of secluding oneself can also be seen as a practical order for monks to be conscientious of their fellow farmers and avoid trampling their crops during the sensitive cultivation cycle.
Buddhist Rains Retreat in Thailand
The Bhuddhist Rains Retreat in modern Thailand has evolved to include two significant religious rituals. One of these famous rituals is commonly known as the Candle Procession.
Monks are required to undergo early morning or evening prayers during the retreat. In an effort to support them, Buddhist Thais would light candles for monks staying at temples to help them continue their monastic studies. Now, the Candle Procession involves elaborate float-size wax carvings in an awe-inspiring display of traditional craftsmanship.
The second of these rituals outlines the process of the Offering of the Rain-Bathing Cloth. In contemporary Thailand, offering rain-bathing cloths to monks during this Vassa period is a time-honored tradition. This practice dates back to the time of Lord Buddha, when the Great Benefactress Visakha made a symbolic offering of rain-bathing cloths to Buddhist monks.
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Vassa Around the World
The significance of the Vassa has continued to remain evident in many Theravada Bhuddhist nations as can be demonstrated by their active recognition and celebration of the event. Aside from Thailand, these nations include Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos, where the Theravada Bhuddhist practices remain relatively prominent.
In Myanmar, the end of Vassa is marked by the Thadingyut Festival, one of the most popular festivals in Myanmar. Distinctly, in Sri Lanka, the annual Buddhist Rains Retreat commences on the day following the Esala Full Moon, where monks who failed to commence regular Vassa on the day following Esala Poya are allowed to enter “Late Vassa.”