(The Buddhist Lent Day: The First Day of Rainy Season Retreat)
The commencement of the three-month Buddhist Lent, Known among Thais as Khao Phansa, traditionally falls on the first day of the waxing moon of the eighth lunar month. During this period, coinciding with the rainy season, Buddhist monks and novices remain closeted in their particular monasteries, discouraged from spending nights elsewhere.
The custom of spending three months of the rainy season in a fixed place is a ritual successfully observed since the time of the Lord Buddha. In those day, however, villagers attributed young seedling damage at the start of the planting season to unnecessary travel by monks. Realizing that monks on pilgrimages could accidentally tread on young plants, the Lord Buddha decreed that his followers spend three months of the rainy season in permanent dwellings.
In cases of necessity, such as taking care of sick monks or parents or conducting religious functions, monks may travel and stay away from their monasteries during this period. However, they are required to return within seven days.
To observe Buddhist Lent, Buddhists usually perform merit making, giving alms to monks, attending sermons and participating in candlelight processions, They also strictly observe Buddhist ethics, especially on holy days.
During the three-month annul “rain retreat,” monks study more and teach those who have chosen this period to enter monkhood. Laymen usually visit temples to offer monks food, clothing, medicine, flower, joss sticks, Lenten candles and other offerings. Such practices they consider highly meritorious.
In ancient times, the number of flowers, joss sticks and small candles presented to a temple was usually equal to the number of monks in that temple. Where there were surplus candles, villagers tended to make numerous small candles into large one for presenting to temples. The large candles being stronger, with more light and longer lasting.
Buddhists believe that offering candles to monks as a means of light will also brighten up their future. These candles are known as Thian Phansa.
To make the Buddhist Lent, a Candle Festival takes place in all parts of Thailand. In the northeastern region, especially Ubon Ratchathani Province, which celebrates its famous Buddhist Lenten Candle Procession each year, the festival takes place on a grand scale.