The History and Traditions of Buddhist Lent in Thailand
Buddhism is a matter of life in the vast majority of Thailand and Buddhist lent another major part of that. In 2019 the period begins on Wednesday 17th July and will run until Sunday 13th October. That’s something of a long time and there are variations across the period. If you’re travelling in Thailand during this time, it’s well worth being armed with some tips and information so that you’re not surprised.
What is Buddhist Lent?
Known also as Wan Khao Phansa, it is the period of time is governed by the lunar cycle and, in Thailand, generally corresponds with the rainy season. In fact, it’s one of the most prominent Thai holidays during the rainy season. Monks and monks in training will remain in one temple or monastery for the whole period of time in order to properly devote their time to the event. They’ll remain inside the temples for the majority of the time, only sometimes venturing out in the day time. The extra time this allows gives more opportunity for meditation and evolving their Dhamma (the truth that Buddha teaches).
The tradition originates from ancient times when Buddha stayed inside temples during rainy seasons so that he would not step on insects and kill them or step on small growing seeds.
How is local life affected during Buddhist Lent in Thailand?
Generally, the local population (and therefore tourists) will rein in the hedonistic side of their lives. Similar to Western ideas of Lent, people tend to give up a vice such as smoking, drinking alcohol and sometimes eating meat for some of or the whole of the Lent period. The local people will also give more time to the temples, visiting, praying and donating alms.
This has some interesting translations for tourists, especially those at Bodega… Many people choose to abstain from alcohol completely. In fact, on some days alcoholic drinks are banned from sale completely. Those dates are well worth knowing in advance…
During the Buddhist Lent period locals will offer gifts, in the form of alms, to the local monks. These are usually candles, garments and bathing robes. In fact, candles feature during many celebrations, especially during the candle making ceremonies that take place. Local artists and talented people share their artistic skills through intricate carvings in wax that are then presented to temples and the monks inside.
What does Buddhist Lent mean for tourists?
So, what can you do during Buddhist Lent in Thailand? Well, the major thing to remember is to be respectful. The Thai people are a deeply conservative nation who respect religion above all else. If you choose not to respect these traditions, they will consider it an affront and you’ll be dealt with incredibly severely. Our suggestion, always be respectful around temples and monks, in fact everyone. Most bars will open as usual, including Bodega, unless directed by the government not to. In that case, take the day off, god knows your liver will appreciate the rest!