Asalaha Bucha Day is one of the most important holidays on the Buddhist calendar and a wonderful time to be in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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below: Wat Chedi Luang’s “Big Stupa” with the full moon above.

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The Big Stupa at Wat Chedi Luang, with the full moon above
The Big Stupa at Wat Chedi Luang, with the full moon above

 

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Asalaha Bucha Day // Buddhist Lent

Also known as the start of Buddhist Lent, Asalaha Bucha Day falls on the first full moon of the 8th month of the Buddhist lunar calendar. In 2012, that date was August 2, which is when I took all the photos featured on this page.

The custom of Khao Panssa begins the next day, when monks return to their temples or monasteries for the duration of the rainy season. During that time, monks are not supposed to leave the temple or spend the night elsewhere.

Locals praying at Wat Chedi Luang on Asanha Bucha Day - August 2, 2012
Locals praying at Wat Chedi Luang on Asanha Bucha Day – August 2, 2012

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above: Chiang Mai locals light incense and prayer candles in front of Wat Chedi Luang.

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below: A fire in the prayer candle “trough” provides a stark backdrop for
a collection of incense at Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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Wat Phra Singh - Fire in the prayer candle area with incense burning in front for Asalaha Bucha Day in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Wat Phra Singh – Fire in the prayer candle area with incense burning in front for Asalaha Bucha Day in Chiang Mai, Thailand

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How to Pray Like a Buddhist

Prayer candles, incense, messages and lotus flowers at Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on Asalaha Bucha Day
Prayer candles, incense, messages and lotus flowers at Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on Asalaha Bucha Day

When praying and requesting a favor to Buddha on Asalaha Bucha Day – or any other time – Thai people use three incense sticks, an orchid or lotus flower, and a small candle. They symbolize:

Incense Sticks: One for the Buddha, one for the Buddhist community (Sangha) and one for the teachings of Buddha (Dharma). The devotee lights the incense, kneels three times and places the burning sticks in front of whatever statue they are praying to.

Flowers: These symbolize the Buddhist teachings of purity.

Small Candle: The flames represent comprehension and enlightenment.

(source: Thai World View)

The full moon (and electric lights) shine on dagobas in the back of Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on Asalaha Bucha Day
The full moon (and electric lights) shine on dagobas in the back of Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on Asalaha Bucha Day

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above: Dabobas, stupas and other temples are lit up around Chiang Mai, Thailand, for Asalaha Bucha Day :: like these ones in the back of Wat Phra Singh. The full moon is in the center.

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below: A pair of Thai Buddhists pray outside one of Chiang Mai’s most famous landmarks:
the Three Kings Monument in Old Town.

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Three Kings Monument, Chiang Mai, Thailand - a couple praying on Asanha Bucha Day - August 2, 2012
Three Kings Monument, Chiang Mai, Thailand – a couple praying on Asanha Bucha Day – August 2, 2012

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A Short History of Asanha Bucha Day

Monks moving chairs at Chedi Luang after an Asanha Bucha Day celebration - August 2, 2012
Monks moving chairs at Chedi Luang after an Asanha Bucha Day celebration – August 2, 2012

Asalaha Bucha translates to “paying homage and worshiping on the first full moon of the 8th month.” Asalaha itself is the name of the eighth month in the Pali language.

Historically, three influential events occurred on various Asalaha Bucha Days, which is why it’s so important. This trifecta is known as the “Triple Gems” amongst Buddhists.

  1. It was the day of the first sermon given by the Buddha. Known as the Dharmachakapavattama Sutta, his words introduced the concept of the “Four Noble Truths.”
  2. Asalaha Bucha Day is considered to be the birthday of Buddhism. It marks the anniversary of the Buddha departing the spot where he reached enlightenment two months earlier.
  3. Finally, the last Triple Gem is the Sangha. On this day, the world got its first Buddhist monkafter he listened to the Buddha’s sermon and realized the complete and universal truth in his teachings. Soon after, the first Buddhist order (Sangha) came into existence which is why Asalaha Bucha Day is also known as “Sangha Day.

(source: Pattaya Mail)

Naga Heads and Reflecting Candles at Wat Pan Tao - Asanha Bucha Day - August 2, 2012 - Darker Levels
Naga Heads and Reflecting Candles at Wat Pan Tao – Asanha Bucha Day – August 2, 2012 – Darker Levels

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above: Naga heads and candles reflect in the pond surrounding Wat Pan Tao in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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below: By the end of the night on Asanha Bucha Day, the floors are covered in candles,
incense, flowers, and the items used to wrap them up.

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Prayer candles on the floor of Wat Phra Singh on Asalaha Bucha Day in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Prayer candles on the floor of Wat Phra Singh on Asalaha Bucha Day in Chiang Mai, Thailand

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Best Places in Chiang Mai to Photograph Asanha Bucha Day

Greg, Carrie and Caroline at Wat Pan Tao - Asanha Bucha Day - August 2, 2012
Greg, Carrie and Caroline at Wat Pan Tao – Asanha Bucha Day – August 2, 2012

Chiang Mai, Thailand, is a city full of wats, temples, dagobas, stupas, chortas and other holy locations. However, a surprising number of them are silent on the night of Asanha Bucha Day.

If you find yourself looking for places to photograph Asanha Bucha Day in Chiang Mai, I would suggest heading to the old town just after sunset and visiting:

Wat Pan Tao
Wat Phra Singh
Wat Chedi Luang

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If you have a motorbike and want something a bit farther away and more “local,” you can head out to Wat at Doi Saket.

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Finally, a huge hug to my darling wife Carrie and our awesome friend Caroline (check out her must-follow blog: Life is Limitless) for being ever-so-patient as I snapped away for hours.