Thailand Holiday: What Happens During Wan Khao Phansa


Thailand Holiday: What Happens During Wan Khao Phansa?

Thailand is a conservative nation that highly respects religion. While you can get away with being unaware of certain things, it’s best to understand the traditions and beliefs that the country has as a form of respect, especially when you’re planning to visit. Among the holidays you need to know is Wan Khao Phansa, which happens the day after Asahna Bucha.

What is Wan Khao Phansa?

Wan Khao Phansa (or Vassa) is a three-month annual retreat observed by Theravada practitioners, the most accepted name of Buddhism's oldest existing school. It begins on the first day of the waning moon of the eighth lunar month or the day after Asahna Bucha. This means that for 2022, it falls on July 14.

This holiday also marks the start of the rainy season. It’s said that Buddha advised his disciples to stop travelling during the three months of the rainy season to avoid dangers that could befall them. This is because travelling on foot can be challenging as roads will be covered in mud and puddles. Another reason is to avoid bringing harm to crops and to insects, animals, and other creatures (by accidentally stepping on them) that resurface during the rainy season.

The Buddhist “Lent”

Wan Khao Phansa is often called as “Buddhist Lent” in English as an analogy to Christian Lent, but some don’t like this terminology because both holidays do not come from the same religious ideas.

Lent is a shortened term from the Old English word lencten, which means spring season. As Wan Khao Phansa takes place during the rainy season, there’s already a disconnect from the term’s usage. Furthermore, the purpose of Christian Lent is to fast and give up certain luxuries to imitate the sacrifice of Jesus Christ during his 40-day journey in the desert. In Wan Khao Phansa, Buddha’s disciples were told to stay in place for about three months to meditate and study. While Thais also fast during this holiday, it’s limited to drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, and eating meat. Establishments in Thailand are also expected not to sell alcoholic drinks unlike in other countries where selling isn’t strictly prohibited.

Nevertheless, many people use the term internationally, even the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).

What Do Thais Do During Wan Khao Phansa?

Many Thais visit temples during Wan Khao Phansa and bring large candles, usually in white and yellow, to make Khao Phansa candles. There are two main reasons they do it: to give light to monks after dark (especially before when there’s no electricity yet) and to make their own future, in turn, a bright one. They also offer garments, specifically bathing robes, and alms to local monks.

Three young Buddhists

The three months of Wan Khao Phansa are also when Thais, mostly the young, become ordained into monkhood. They meditate, pray, study, and (for the adults) teach the younger monks. While not all of them go on to live as monks, it’s a tradition they follow to show their devotion. They stay inside monasteries or temples until the rainy season ends or what they call Wan Ok Phansa, which literally translates to “day of going out of Vassa.”

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