Category Archives: Thai Buddhism

Tak Bat Thewo Festival

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.

Candle Festival in Thailand

Over the recent long holiday weekend in Thailand, we celebrated two important Buddhist holidays: Asarnha Bucha and Khao Phansa. The first takes place on the full moon day of the eighth lunar month. It commemorates the Buddha’s first sermon to his first five disciples. On this day people celebrate the Triple Gem. This represents the Buddha, his teaching and his disciples. The following day is the start of the three month long Buddhist Rains Retreat. In English it is sometimes called “Buddhist Lent” as some people vow to give up things such as alcohol or meat during this period.

Over the past few days, there have been many parades around the Kingdom of Thailand of large candles that are given to monks at the temples. The candles are large enough to stay alight for the entire Buddhist Rains Retreat. However, some are much larger than others and certainly more beautifully decorated. The best of these can be seen in the annual parades in cities in Isaan such as at Ubon Ratchathani. In Samut Prakan, we didn’t have such spectacular wax carvings, but we did have some candle processions on boats.

I think nearly every local community and temple had their own candle processions. Though in some temples local people went on their own to offer food and candles to the monks. In the picture above, local people are taking part in a procession around the main ordination hall three times in a clockwise direction. They then went inside to offer the candles, robes and dried food to the monks. I think I must have taken pictures at least half a dozen different candle parades for our online news magazine for Samut Prakan Province. For most of these events I posted live moblogs over at with pictures taken from my iPhone.

The next big festival in Thailand for us is for the Queen’s Birthday on 12th August. Expect to see early morning alms giving to hundreds of monks and fireworks in the evening. It is also a long weekend this year from 12-15 August 2010. You can read all about the latest news and events for Thailand by following me on Twitter @RichardBarrow.

Birthdays in Thailand

As part of the celebrations for their birthday, many Thai Buddhists will go to their local temple to offer alms to a monk and to then receive a blessing in return. Monks are also often invited to mark other anniversaries. This week, my school celebrated 55 years and so twenty monks were invited. After a chanting session, the students and teachers then offered the monks dried food and other basic essentials like shampoo and toothpaste.

Parade of the Pagoda Pinnacles

The Mon people, in the communities surrounding Wat Bang Ya Phraek in Phra Pradaeng District of Samut Prakan, took part in a parade and merit making activities this afternoon. In Thai, this parade is called “ngan hae yot phra chedi sai”. Which is basically a parade to carry the pinnacle or slender spires for the sand pagodas. I have talked several times about “chedi sai” before. You often see these sand pagodas being made at temples during the Songkran period. Traditionally, people will take sand to their local temples once a year in order to replace any sand that they may have inadvertently taken away on the bottom of their shoes. Families will come together to build a sand pagoda as a way to make merit together. They decorate these with flags and flowers and quite often produce a really beautiful pagoda.

The festivities at Wat Bang Ya Phraek started with the parade. Taking part were about ten communities and organizations in the local area. The opening ceremony was conducted by Samut Prakan Governor Mr. Surachai Kanasa. After he had cut the ribbon the parade then started. There weren’t any big floats as this was really a kind of “wien tien” around the main building in the temple. But there were close on a thousand people involved so it was more like a parade. There were at least two marching bands but every group also had mobile amplifiers attached to loudspeakers which they pushed along on a trolley. Some had electronic guitars plugged in and were blasting away.

In each group there were people carrying various items to use to decorate their sand pagoda. In the top picture you can see the “yot chedi”. Others carried rice, buckets of essentials items and “money trees” to offer to the monks. The parade went around the temple grounds three times in a clockwise direction. They finally ended up in the area where the sand pagodas had already been prepared the day before. These were all amazingly beautiful without exception. It looked like a lot of work had been done to make these. I am glad I came early and took pictures of the sand pagodas before the parade finished. Afterwards, this small area became really crowded and the cacophony of noise from all the different amplifiers just added to the organized chaos.

Each community raised the “yot chedi” to the top of their sand pagoda. A Thai style pagoda is often a bell-shaped monument. The “yot chedi” is the spire that goes up from the top. Hanging down from these were lines with 20 baht and 100 baht banknotes attached. I also spotted some 500 baht notes. These were then attached to poles at each of the corners. Next they decorated the chedi with a cloth and some flower garlands. People then lit joss sticks and said a short prayer before placing them into the sand pagoda. Once they had all finished, the monks started chanting which was broadcasted around the temple on loudspeakers. This went on for about 20 minutes. But that wasn’t really the end of the events. Starting today they will have a kind of three day temple fair. Tonight they will have a free concert at the temple.

It was quite an amazing experience for me even though this was now my second time. The parade started at 5.15 p.m. and it was just over an hour before they were ready for the chanting. There was so much to see and experience. It was one of those events that you had to keep looking around you for photo opportunities otherwise you would miss something. The sight, sound and smells were quite overwhelming at times.

Sand Pagodas for Songkran

Taking a break from the hectic Songkran celebrations the other day, I went to Wat Chai Mongkol in Samut Prakan. It was like an oasis in the middle of a war zone. In the surrounding area, roaming pickup trucks, packed with people armed to the teeth, were patrolling the streets looking for people to squirt with their guns. However, here in the temple grounds, families were taking part in a more traditional part of Songkran. That is, the building of sand pagodas, or gor phra chedi sai in Thai.

This tradition apparently started as a way for local people to make merit. It was reckoned that over the course of a year, a lot of sand would accidentally be taken away from the temple on the bottom of people’s shoes. So, once a year, local lay people would be invited to bring back some sand and build a pagoda. Well, these days things are a bit more organized. When I visited this temple at the start of the week, a truck was just delivering the sand and the monks were busy making large piles for each team.

There was a good atmosphere at the temple. There was a lot of other things going on as well and plenty of food stalls to keep people fed. I could see that an outdoor screen had been set up so I guess that there would be a free movie to watch later that day. There were a lot of families there. Each family was working on their own pagoda. The shape and sizes did vary quite a bit and also the decorations put on them. But most of them had little flags and sticks with money attached to them.

I have uploaded more pictures to the Samut Prakan Photo Album.