It is Asarnha Bucha or Big Buddha Day as one of our friends call it.
Celebrated in Thailand on the first full moon of the eighth lunar month, Asarnha Bucha Day also known as Dharma Day, is one of Theravada Buddhism's most important festivals and marks the first public sermon given by Buddha, which took place at Deer Park in Benares, India. This first pivotal sermon, often referred to as “setting into motion the wheel of dharma,” is the teaching which is encapsulated for Buddhists in the four noble truths: there is suffering (dukkha); suffering is caused by craving (tanha); there is a state (nirvana) beyond suffering and craving; and finally, the way to nirvana is via the eightfold path. This is also a popular time for men to enter the monk-hood.
The day also marks the beginning of Vassa, also known as the Rains Retreat. For the duration of Vassa which is three lunar months, Monks remain inside monasteries and temple grounds for intensive meditation. It has been a long standing tradition for Monks not to travel during the rainy season as they may unintentionally harm crops, insects or even themselves during their travels.
We were so happy our good friend Surasak (Sam) asked us if we would like to go to the ceremony. Not knowing what to expect, Vince took all his camera gear and I took my new video camera. When we arrived there were vendors lining both sides of the street outside the temple selling lotus flowers with incense sticks, candles and offerings for Buddha. Many people were dressed in white and when we found Sam I noticed he and Vince were wearing long sleeve white shirts....they both looked very handsome!
Knowing there is an appropriate way to dress when visiting a temple I wore long sleeves and leggings under my dress. I did see many younger Thai's wearing shorts and sleeveless tops along with the tourists doing the same. Times appear to be changing.
Wandering around the grounds of Wat Chedi Luang from daylight to dark with several hundred Monks, locals and tourists milling about while listening to bells ringing, chanting, laughter, children giggling and seeing everyone smiling was certainly a magical evening. You could feel the reverence being paid throughout the evening and the air was filled with love, forgiveness and hope.
Wat Chedi Luang was constructed in the 1300's and housed the original Emerald Buddha that now resides in Bangkok. For the 600 year anniversary in 1995 a copy of the Emerald Buddha was made from black jade and place in the same niche on the east side.
It is the beginning of the rainy season and I found it very auspicious that it rained for a while during the ceremony. I was standing up on a covered area taking video when I saw a photographer look up, grab his camera and tripod and head for cover. Then other people were quickly getting up from their seats and streaming up the stairs to where I was standing taking video. I realized what was going on so I picked up my shoes and headed to the back of the Chedi to find Vince. I passed the table where women were selling lotus and watched them whip out their umbrellas all the while smiling and continuing on with business.
The raindrops were coming down a little faster, but I thought it was nothing to worry about as I walked to find Vince. Not even a minute later I was running for cover and found a small wooden thatched structure and ducked inside. I saw a woman next to me under a large white tent, she smiled at me and then reached her hands under the water pouring from the fabric to wash her hands, splash her face and wet her hair back. The thunder was loud and the rain was louder. The smell was refreshing and I looked around to see Vince facing me to take a picture of the rain. He was several tents away and we waved at each other.
People gathered under tents and as the rain eased the chanting began. Vince was now under the structure with me and we watched two little boys playing in large puddles. I managed to take some video as several other children ran through on their way around the Chedi. I felt their joy seep into my very soul!
The Monks were now gathered together to lead people walking three times around the Chedi while chanting prayers. As the ceremony finished people were taking selfies and gathering for family photos. It was an amazing couple of hours.
As we left the smell of food was calling and we walked a couple blocks and found a place to grab a bite. Coconut based soup, Panang Curry and Beef Salad were all delicious. Our ride home was quiet and the air refreshing.....we slept like babies!