In the Thai language Makha (Pali: Māgha) means the Third Lunar Month. Bucha (Pali: Pūjā) means “to honor”. Makha Bucha (Thai: มาฆบูชา) day honors the teachings of Buddha on the evening of the full moon of the third lunar month.
Activities on Makha Bucha Day
Visiting a temple to make merit, listening to monks preaching, and giving alms in form of food and everyday items. People also often make merit by releasing fish and birds kept in captivity.
Keeping the Five Precepts: abstain from killing, not taking what is not given, avoid sensual misconduct, abstain from false speech, and not consuming alcoholic drinks.
In every temple in Thailand there is a candlelight procession called a Wiian Thiian (Thai: เวียนเทียน), which translates as “circling around with candles”. Monks and members of the congregation circle the ordination hall clockwise three times while holding flowers, incense and a lighted candle. Each revolution is to pay respect to one of the Three Jewels of Buddhism: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.
Origin of Makha Bucha Day
Ten months after the enlightenment of the Buddha, four events occurred at the Veḷuvana bamboo grove, near Rājagaha in northern India. These four events are commemorated on Makha Bucha day:
- 1,250 disciples came to see the Buddha that evening without being summoned.
- All of them were considered Arhantas (Enlightened Ones), ordained by the Buddha himself.
- The Buddha gave those Arhantas the three principles of Buddhism, also called “heart of Buddhism” in Thailand: to cease from all evil, to do what is good, and to cleanse one’s mind.
- It was a full-moon day.
The date of Makha Bucha day varies each year, since it is based on the lunar calendar. This year it is on March 4th, 2015. In Thailand this is a national holiday so people can participate in the ritual and make merit.
Abstinence from Alcohol
On Makha Bucha day, there is an alcohol ban in Thailand. Restaurants do not serve it, stores do not sell it, and most bars are closed for the day. Consuming alcohol would not only violate Buddhist principles, but also be considered a civil offense. Nevertheless, some venues will still be open and serve alcohol, often disguised by being served in a coffee mug, especially in tourist areas.
My Personal Experience of Makha Bucha Day
Ever since I moved to Thailand, I have participated in some of the activities on the day. I typically make it a point to join the candlelight procession in the evening, which has always been a memorable experience. You won’t have to travel far to join in, since there typically is a temple near by your place you live.
Have you ever participated in any of the activities on Makha Bucha day? I would be delighted to read about your experience in the comments below.