If the Catholics’ Jesus Christ has a birthday then Buddha, too, has one. It’s not only the day Gautama Buddha was born though, but it includes his all his life: his birth, enlightenment and death.
Also known as Vesak, Buddha’s birthday is usually celebrated in various days, depending on the calendar used by a particular country. In Thailand, where Buddhism is the major form of religion, Buddha’s birthday frequently falls on a May except in the leap year where it falls on June.
Approximately 95% of Thailand’s population is Buddhist of Therevada School of the Southern Buddhism, similar to that of Sri Lanka. It is estimated that the religion reached Thailand during the 3rd Century B.C., the same time when Emperor Asoka of Japan propagated its beliefs. The rest of the 5% in Thai population are mostly Muslims and Christians.
Buddha is considered as a great philosopher and teacher. His teachings widely spread Asia, particularly India and South Asia. Buddhism is not focused on gods and goddesses as most religions do; rather, it is focused on man and his life. Life, according to Buddha, is pain and suffering caused by craving and worldly desires. He said that agony will only end once desire ceases, until one achieves nirvana or the enlightenment.
Buddhism, because of its existence in the country for centuries, is deeply rooted in Thailand’s culture. From religion to customs and even to architecture, Buddhism is very dominant in the Thai nation. Like other Buddhist countries, the religion is represented by monks (some in yellow robes) who serve as the officiator on various ceremonies and occasions.
Vesak is the holiest day of Thai Buddhism. The monks and nuns all over the Kingdom of Thailand will chant rituals and the ancient rules of their orders. Some lay people, on the contrary, offer flowers and various offerings on the temples where they can also meditate and listen to monks’ discussions. There will usually be candlelight processions at night as part of their religious practices.
If temples celebrate Buddha’s Birthday as solemn and contemplating day, some other places celebrate it the modern way. There are also festivals, parades and parties like other Thai holidays. Streets will be covered with garlands and lanterns, including Buddha’s images.
In Wat Yai Chaimongkon, just outside the old city of Ayutthaya, celebration will start in the morning. Images surrounding the courtyard will be wrapped in new golden robes, including the large central tower or cedhi. Thousands of people usually visit the temple and go around it three times to give gratitude.