Visakha Puja – falls on the full moon of the sixth month of the lunar year (around the middle of May on the international calendar). It is one of the most important days for Buddhists because on this day the Lord Buddha was born, attained enlightenment, and died. All three of these significant events fell on the same day. Visakha Puja is usually celebrated with a public sermon during the day and a candle lit procession to pay respect to the Lord Buddha during the night.
Magha Puja – falls on the full moon of the third lunar month (February). It was on this day that 1,250 enlightened monks converged to pay respect to the Lord Buddha without any prior appointment. The day is celebrated in a similar fashion to Visakha Puja day.
Asalha Puja – falls on the full moon of the eighth lunar month (July) and is also very important. It was on this day that the Lord Buddha preached His sermon to followers after attaining enlightenment. The day is usually celebrated by merit making, listening to a monk’s sermon, and joining a candle lit procession during the night.
Khao Phansa – falls on the first day after the full moon of the eighth lunar month (July) and marks the beginning of the three-month Buddhist ‘lent’ period. At this time, all monks and novices must remain in their temples. They should not venture out or spend the night in any other place except in cases of extreme emergency and, even then, their time away must not exceed seven consecutive nights. This is a time for serious contemplation and meditation for both monks and laymen alike. Traditionally, it is also important for laymen to ordain their sons into the monkhood on this day to get maximum benefit from the Buddhist teachings.
Ok Phansa – marks the end of the Buddhist lent and falls on the full moon of the eleventh lunar month (October). This is a day of joyful celebration and merit-making. For many families, it is also the day they welcome a son back into the home and celebrate his successful completion of a term in the temple.
Tod Kratin – lasts for 30 days, from Ok Phansa through to the full moon of the twelfth lunar month. During this time most Buddhists take part in ceremonies, either directly or indirectly. Robes and other necessities of temple life are offered ceremoniously to the monks on an appointed day. Each temple may hold a Tod Kratin ceremony once each year. Originally, in the time of the Lord Buddha, this ceremony was meant to teach monks humility and show them how to cut, sew, and dye the robes for themselves. The finished robes were then offered to the members of the company deemed most suitable. Today, however, the ritual has evolved dramatically into a grand celebration where hundreds and thousands of people join in the merit making. It is also an important occasion for the temple to raise funds.
The sequence of events for each of the above three religious days goes something like this:
Early in the morning, people begin to arrive at the temple wearing their best clothes. They carry food prepared at home, usually in highly decorative gold or silver bowls, and offer it to the monks. After this breakfast, the people are blessed by the monks and many return to their homes. The more devoted may choose to remain at the temple and, later in the morning, take a vow with the monks to keep either five or eight precepts throughout the entire day. After taking this vow, they split their time between praying, listening to the monks’ preachings and doing meditation. In the evening, the monks lead a candle lit procession, making three complete circuits of the main temple building. This event signifies the end of the celebrations.