What happens on this day and why it is important to the Thai peopleby Chris G. Mayya
History has a limited record of people who were born and consequently died on the same date. Buddhists go a step further in commemorating the day of enlightenment of Buddha, as they also celebrate his birth and his death on the same day.
Visakha Bucha Day or Vesak Day, as it is popularly known in other parts of the world, is one of the holiest days for devout Buddhists. The three events of birth, enlightenment, and death are the milestones in an extraordinary lifespan of 80 years.
Although every full moon day is considered sacred, the full moon in the month of Visakha holds special significance for Buddhists. The Sanskrit origin of the word is “Visakha,” which comes from India, and it symbolizes the period preceding the monsoon season. “Bucha” refers to the act of worship.
For this year, Visakha Bucha falls on June 1 in Thailand. Activities for that day mostly revolve around the temples, as Thai-Buddhists consider it to be an auspicious day for “making merit” (acts of generosity that benefit others in line with the Buddhist religious doctrine and with the belief they will be given a positive reward after life). Among highest forms of merit making are the offering of alms to monks. Some Thai men consider it a sacred day for monk ordination. Young boys and teenagers are encouraged, and in some cases compelled, by their family to take up short-term ordination. Other forms of making merit include releasing fish into water and freeing up the birds held in cages.
All over Thailand, Visakha Bucha celebrations are conspicuous and hard to miss. Besides being a public holiday, several schools, colleges and public institutions hang out yellow Buddhist flags. Processions are held in the evenings and candles are lit up at most temples. Of course, some foreigners bemoan the fact that it is a “dry day,” since the sale of alcohol is barred for 24 hours.
In Bangkok, the public square right in front of the King’s Grand Palace in Sanam Luang has traditionally held festivities in previous years.
In Chiang Mai, the residents go on an 11km-hike up Doi Suthep Mountain. It is a nice group walk and a cultural orientation. Most Thais enjoy seeing foreigners join them on this hike as long as the religious norms are respected. Many local businesses offer food and drinks for free to the “hiking pilgrims.”