Thailand Celebrates Makha Bucha

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The Buddhist holiday of Makha Bucha, or Magha Puja, was celebrated in Thailand this year on 4 March. The holiday is mainly observed in Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos, and according to the lunar calendar, falls on the full moon day of the third month. Makha Bucha became an official holiday in Thailand only in 1957.
Makha Bucha celebrates a teaching the Buddha gave nine months after his enlightenment, when 1,250 disciples came to listen to him. The Buddha ordained them and gave them the fundamental Buddhist precepts: to do no harm, to do good, and to purify the mind. Makha, derived from Pali, means “third lunar month,” and Bucha means “to honor.” Laypeople celebrate the day by going to their local temple, giving alms to monks, listening to teachings, and taking part in candlelit processions, walking clockwise around the temple three times bearing flowers, incense, and a lighted candle.

Thailand Celebrates Makha BuchaMonks praying during the alms-offering ceremony at Wat Dhammakaya Temple. From Damir Sagolj/Reuters
One aspect of the holiday is that in order to generate merit, laypeople follow the five lay precepts, abstaining from harm, lying, stealing, sexual misconduct, and intoxicants. As such, in Thailand there was a 24-hour ban on the sale and purchase of alcohol nationwide. In Phuket, Provincial Police Deputy Commander Peerayuth Karajedee told the Phuket Gazette, “We sent a letter to night entertainment business operators to inform them of the ban, which took effect at midnight. The ban runs for 24 hours.”  
The punishment for violation of the ban was a six months’ prison sentence, a 10,000 baht fine, or both, so Peerayuth felt confident that people would comply. He commented, “I believe Thai people, alcohol retailers and all night entertainment venue operators understand that the sale and purchase of alcohol is prohibited on this special day. We see no need to send any extra officers out to enforce the ban” (Phuket Gazette).
Meanwhile, more than 2,000 monks from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar joined the many Thai Buddhists at Wat Dhammakaya Temple in Pathum Thani Province, north of Bangkok, where Makha Bucha ceremonies are held every year. However, this year the temple’s abbot, Phra Dhammachayo, was absent during the celebrations. Thai Visa News reported that he had not made any public appearances since a recent controversy surrounding the temple. A junior monk there has made allegations that among other misdemeanors, the abbot had received checks worth over 800 million baht from the Credit Union Cooperatives, resulting from the temple’s propagation of the idea that the amount of merit gained is in correlation to the amount of money donated. The Department for Special Investigations has summoned the abbot for questioning.
This has not deterred the many devotees who claim the abbot is innocent, however. A disciple of ten years said,“We have eyes and ears! I come to the temple every Sunday and we all here comprehend what the abbot and the temple is attempting to achieve. There is nothing more to it than that. You shouldn’t believe in the rumors” (Thai Visa News).
In 2016, Makha Bucha will be celebrated in Thailand and Cambodia on 22 February. 

Thailand Celebrates Makha Bucha
The candlelit ceremony. From Taylor Weidman/Getty Images

Naushin Ahmed
Source: (Mar. 12, 2015)