One of the most beautiful festivals in Thailand is Tak Bat Thewo which takes places on the last day of the three month Buddhist Rains Retreat. This event, in Uthai Thani, has started to become popular over the last few years and I was really glad to be able to go for myself this year during the full moon in October. It was certainly a beautiful sight watching about 500 monks descend the steps from Khao Sakae Krang.
According to legend, the Lord Buddha once went up to Tavatimsa heaven during the three month Rains Retreat to preach to his departed mother. On the last day of the retreat, which coincided with the full moon of the eleventh lunar month (usually October), he came down to Earth at a city called Sangkassa. Waiting for him were thousands of people who offered food to both the Buddha and his disciples. This day then became known as “the Buddha’s coming down from the heavenly world”.
The main event was advertised to take place at 9 a.m. Although we thought that we were arriving early at 7:15 a.m., there were already thousands of people waiting at the foot of the hill. Hundreds of tables had been set up so that people could place food on them that they had brought for the monks. The tables formed a natural walkway or lane. There were eight of these, so that after the monks reached the bottom of the hill they would split up into eight groups.
I was told that many people had been here even before sunrise in order to reserve a table. Certainly, by the time we arrived most of the tables were already full. I wandered around for a while taking pictures of the people before positioning myself at the bottom of the hill to wait for the monks to descend. Quite a few other people had the same idea as me including a lot of local media. However, there were very few foreigners among the 10,000 people attending.
The opening ceremony started at 8:30 a.m. with a speech made by the Governor of Uthai Thani. I would normally take pictures of this but I wasn’t keen on losing my spot. Then, about 20 minutes later we spotted the first monks starting to descend the hill. It was quite a moment and everyone was very excited. The monks were coming down from the top of the hill recreating the event of the Buddha descending from heaven. After taking pictures here I moved further back where I took this picture of the hill. On reflection, I think this was a better viewpoint (if you are tall enough to see over the crowds) to take pictures.
The monks were only carrying their normal alms bowls and shoulder bags. As these filled up very quickly, there was a small army of helpers who carried bigger sacks. All of the food and drinks that were offered to the monks were quickly placed into the sacks. Despite the early hour it was hot and hard work. Many of the monks were sweating. I tried my best to take as many pictures as I could but I also wanted to soak up the atmosphere. I knew from experience, that despite the large number of people, everything would be completed very quickly. As it turned out, I took my last picture only 30 minutes later.
The Tak Bat Thewo Festival takes place on the full moon during October every year. It takes place at Wat Sangkat Rattanakhiri in Uthai Thani City. Click here to see on a map. This is only about 220 kilometers north of Bangkok. I think it only took about 3 hours or so to drive there but as it is an early morning event, we came up the day before. Visit our Thai Festival Blogs for more pictures, a map and also dates for next year. I wish to thank the Tourism Authority of Thailand for bringing me to this event and I look forward to coming again to this city in the future by myself.