Visakha Bucha Day 2024

Join Thailand in the worldwide observance of Visakha Bucha or Vesak Day on May 22nd, 2024, one of the holiest days in the Buddhist faith.
Thailand
22 May 2024

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Like many religious holidays in Thailand, Visakha Bucha Day is observed according to the traditional lunar calendar, and therefore changes each year. This year, it falls on May 22nd, 2024, which coincides with the full moon of the sixth lunar month.

Buddhist lore of Visakha Bucha

Thai Buddhist monks putting down candles in front of a Buddha statue during the religious ceremony of Visakha Bucha at Wat Phan Tao in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Source: Pongmanat Tasiri / Shutterstock.com

Visakha Bucha, also known internationally as Vesak, is one of the holiest days in Buddhism. It marks three major events in the life of Siddhartha Gautama, the Lord Buddha: his birth, enlightenment, and death. According to Buddhist scripture, these three events are said to have occurred on the same day of different years.

Born into royalty in 623 B.C. in what is modern-day Nepal, Siddhartha Gautama is believed to have abandoned his life of luxury to seek wisdom about the existential nature of suffering. He then attained enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi tree, founding the religion of Buddhism.

Finally, he passed away under two Sal trees in what is modern-day Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh in India. This event is known as Mahaparinirvana—Buddha’s release from the cycle of death and rebirth.

Visakha Bucha in Thailand

Like many Buddhist holidays in Thailand, Visakha Bucha is a time for making merit and adherence to religious precepts. In the mornings, many families visit temples together to give alms to Buddhist monks. During the day, there may also be Dharma sermons given at temples nationwide and broadcast on radio or television.

A circumambulation procession, called Wian Tian, around a temple's ordination hall on Visakha Bucha Day
Source: Thanaphong Araveeporn / Shutterstock.com

In the evening, people join a circumambulation procession (Wian Tian). This involves walking clockwise around a temple’s ordination hall (Phra Ubosot) three times, carrying lit candles, joss sticks, and flowers. The three rounds symbolize the Three Jewels of Buddhism: the Buddha, the Dharma (his teachings), and the Sangha (the monastic order).

Alcohol sales are prohibited throughout the day, reflecting one of the five Buddhist precepts to abstain from alcohol.

Vesak Day around the world

Visakha Puja Day, Buddha statue, bodhi leaf with len flares
Source: Doraemon9572 / Shutterstock.com

Thailand began commemorating Visakha Bucha during the Sukhothai era (13th–15th century). However, the World Fellowship of Buddhists formalized the observance of Vesak Day as the birthday of the Lord Buddha at its inaugural conference held in 1950.

Several countries with significant Buddhist followings and traditions also celebrate Vesak, including Southeast Asian nations Lao PDR, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, as well as South Asian nations Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, and Bhutan. Similar holidays occur in Japan, parts of China, Mongolia, and the Republic of Korea.

Vesak Day is commemorated annually at the UN Headquarters and other UN offices during the full moon of May. In 1999, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a resolution that recognizes the Day of Vesak internationally as the most significant day for Buddhists worldwide. 

Since then, Thailand has hosted the UN Day of Vesak summit 11 times.