Buddha was born in India some 2,500 years ago as a rich prince, but he left that life of luxury to seek out wisdom from the wise hermits who lived in woodlands scattered throughout the region at the time. He felt disappointed, however, and instead meditated under a Bodhi tree. There, he is believed to have attained enlightenment at the age of 35 and to have formulated the basic tenets of Buddhism. Later, at age 80, he died. Buddhists believe he then entered the state of “nirvana” and escaped all suffering, death, and reincarnation.
In Thailand, Visakha Bucha Day is a time when the devout visit local temples to “make merit,” by giving donations and engaging in various rituals. While there, they also listen to sermons on Buddha’s teachings, meditate, recommit themselves to follow the precepts of Buddhism, and offer food to temple workers. Some also set birds or fish free as a means of eliminating “negative karma”.
Thai law prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages on Visakha Bucha Day, which causes many bars to close temporarily. Many of celebrations are private and religious, but tourists are allowed to visit most of the many temples of Thailand. Three of the most important Bangkok temples to see on Visakha Bucha Day are:
- Wat Pho, which is the oldest Buddhist temple in Bangkok. It dates from the 7th Century A.D., but it was rebuilt and expanded in 1801 by King Rama I. The ashes of King Rama I are enshrined inside the temple, along with the famed Reclining Buddha, which is meant to symbolise Buddha’s entrance into nirvana at his death. The architecture is extremely ornate, colourful, and complex.
- Wat Phrathart Doi Suthep. Here, a large Visakha Bucha Day pilgrimage and procession takes place every year. Led by candlelight, devotees circle the temple’s “Bhote” chapel. They move clockwise, carrying incense sticks and lotus buds. The temple overlooks the city, giving a panoramic view, and it contains relics of Buddha that have been housed there for four centuries.
- Wat Phra Kaew, which is considered to be the most sacred of all the numerous Buddhist temples in Thailand. Here is housed the “Emerald Buddha,” which is only about two feet tall and is made out of jade instead of emerald. “Emerald,” in the Thai language, simply refers to a dark green colour and not to a particular gem stone. The statue is in a meditating pose but is standing up straight. The Emerald Buddha is considered to be a symbol of Thailand besides being a religious symbol. You will find the Wat Phra Kaew temple in Bangkok’s historic centre, not far from the famous Grand Palace, which is now a popular museum.