Celebrating Makha Bucha Day in Chiang Mai

Candles at Wat Phra Singh Thailand

One of the benefits of spending a prolonged period in a new city is the ability to attend festivals and ceremonies as a part of everyday life, something that we don’t often get a chance to do as tourists. February 18 was Makha Bucha day, one of the more important holidays in Theravada Buddism. Celebrated on the third lunar month’s full moon, it marks the Buddha’s first sermon to his disciples (known as the Ovādapātimokkha) nine months after his enlightenment. There were 1,250 disciples in attendance and Makha Bucha celebrates not only the sermon but the fact that none of the disciples were summoned; they spontaneously showed up of their own accord. The day is a public holiday in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, and living in Chiang Mai enabled me to watch the ceremony unfold as dusk fell.

Makha Bucha Day Photos

Lighting candles on Makha Bucha Day in Chiang Mai

Candles at Wat Phra Singh for Makha Bucha Day

A crowd of Thais performing wian tian, circling the temple clockwise three times with flowers and candles in hand:

Wian tian around Wat Phra Singh for Makha Bucha Day

At the far reaches of the temple grounds, a quieter scene in the smaller pagodas:

Outer reaches of Wat Phra Singh's temple grounds, Chiang Mai for Makha Bucha Day

While beautiful during the day, Phra Singh at night was a sight to behold:

In the evening of Magha full-moon day, each temple in Thailand holds a candle light procession called a wian tian (wian meaning circle; tian meaning candle). Holding flowers, incense and a lighted candle, the monks and congregation members circumambulate clockwise three times around the Uposatha Hall - once for each of the Three Jewels – the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Tum Boon: Making merit by going to temples for special observances and join in the other Buddhist activities. Rub Sil': Keeping the Five Precepts. Practise of renunciation: Observe the Eight Precepts, practise of meditation and mental discipline, stay in the temple, wearing white robes, for a number of days.

Next year’s Mahka Bucha Day will be on February 7, 2012. For any travellers in the area, I highly recommend watching from the sidelines; it was a beautiful evening.

This is a shorter post than usual, but I wanted to give a small snapshot (or 5) into my life here in Chiang Mai. I’ve been cobbling together my favourite places to eat and things to do, but ceremonies like this – woven through the routines I’ve created – are part of what makes living here special. It’s the same in any new place; it always feels gratifying to participate in festivals not because you are checking them off a to-do list, but because you love your (temporary) new home.



8 thoughts on “Celebrating Makha Bucha Day in Chiang Mai”

  1. I can’t think of a better place for peoplewatching than a festival. For travelers, and for locals who might appreciate the sight of visitors respecting their social rhythms and traditional calendar. Quite aside from the fact that events like this are usually fascinating and beautiful…

    The last festival I attended here in York made me realise how easy it is to slip out of these rhythms, as a local caught up in the work-eat-sleep routine. And how rewarding they are to attend. Curiously self-affirming – “ah, *that*’s who I am” – to be aware of your place in a community, even if you’re just passing through…

  2. Thanks everyone. I had friends visiting from out of town (an old friend from Montreal) and it was a great opportunity to show them what life is like here away from the more touristy sights and scenes. Glad you enjoyed!

  3. Sofia - As We Travel

    Beautiful! Ceremonies and festivals really bring out the best of places.
    I love getting to see the cultural side of a place and often the best way to do that is during a festival.

  4. Andrew - The Unframed World

    Wow! I had never heard of Mahka Bucha Day until I read your post. Thanks for sharing. As a travel photographer I also really appreciate the wealth of pretty pictures in the post!

  5. You’re so right – being a “local” definitely allows you to experience some pretty amazing things. As a tourist, I’ve always missed great festivals by only a day or two!

  6. @Sofia – glad you enjoyed & glad to see you had a lovely time while you were here too. Enjoy Laos!

    @Andrew, @Rebecca: I hadn’t heard of it prior, which was why it was fun to see a festival in my backyard. Staying put definitely enables you to experience the smaller festivals that don’t make it into the guidebooks or must do lists, and are often more fun as a result of happening upon them by accident! Safe travels to both of you!

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