Awk Phansa is a significant date in the Thai calendar marking the end of the Buddhist Rains Retreat period (known as ‘Phansa‘). The exact date varies each year depending on the lunar calendar, but Awk Phansa usually falls in October.
In Buddhist belief, Awk Phansa commemorates Buddha returning to earth from heaven. Buddha spent a three month retreat period in heaven where he visited his mother. On his return to the mortal world, Buddha’s followers presented him with gifts of food. On Awk Phansa Day, Thai Buddhists mark the event with a visit to the temple to make merit. The occasion is also celebrated with a number of different regional festivals across Thailand.
Phansa rains retreat
The Phansa rains retreat period from July-October is traditionally a time when Buddhist monks stay within the confines of their own temple for meditation and study. The three-month Phansa period (sometimes referred to as ‘Buddhist Lent’ ) commences on Wan Khao Phansa which comes the day after Asahna Bucha Day. This is usually in July. The rains retreat period ends with Awk Phansa on the full moon night in October.
The start of the Phansa period is a popular time for young Thai men to be temporarily ordained as a Buddhist monk. This is regarded as a way of passing merit to their family. Some will continue for the entire three-month period, while others may do so just for a few weeks.
Festivals for Awk Phansa
Awk Phansa is marked by various religious ceremonies. And in different regions of the country, Awk Phansa is celebrated with local festivals which celebrate the culture and traditions of that region.
Chong Para Festival, Mae Hong Son
In the northern province of Mae Hong Son, the Shan (Tai Yai) community holds the Chong Para Festival. The colourful festival celebrates the return from heaven of the Lord Buddha. Decorated wooden towers, known as ‘chong’, welcome the Buddha on his descent from heaven. On the night of the Awk Phansa full moon, local communities join together to eat, dance and socialise. The towers are then paraded through the streets to the local temple where they are placed in front of the Buddha image (known as ‘para’ in the local dialect).
Rub Bua, Lotus Throwing Festival, Samut Prakan
In Samut Prakan province to the east of Bangkok, the unique Lotus Throwing Festival known as Rob Bua, takes place on Awk Phansa Day.
The act of throwing lotus flowers by the community at Bang Phli is an old local tradition which has been passed down the generations. People gather along the banks of the Samrong Canal waiting to greet a boat carrying a revered Buddha image. As the Buddha image makes its way along the canal, thousands of lotus flowers are thrown as an act of making merit. In Buddhism, a white lotus represents purity and is often used by Thai Buddhists when making-merit. It is thought to be particularly auspicious for a person if the lotus they throw lands in the boat containing the Buddha image.
Lai Reua Fai, Illuminated Boat Festival, Nakhon Phanom
The Mekong River in Nakhon Phanom in North-East Thailand is the venue for the Lai Reua Fai, Illuminated Boat Festival.
For centuries, it has been an Awk Phansa tradition in parts of Isaan to float small boats made from bamboo or banana tree trunks on the Mekong. The boats are illuminated with candles and offerings may be added inside as a way of paying respect to Buddha and to the Nagas and water spirits. Over the years this has evolved into a more elaborate festival with huge, beautifully illuminated boats used at the event in Nakhon Phanom.
Thod Kathin (Robes Offering Ceremony)
Awk Phansa marks the start of a one month period when ‘Thod Kathin‘ (Robes Offering Ceremony) can take place. Across Thailand, friends and families join together to form processions to carry new robes for monks and other offerings to their local wat. The processions can be large or small, but are characterised by the music and dancing that accompanies them. In Bangkok, the Royal Thod Kathin Ceremony is usually held at Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) and presided over by the King of Thailand.
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