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Ok Phansa

Date: End of the Rains Retreat (October-November)
Venue: Nationwide with spectacular events in the northeast and south

After three months restricted to their temples, learning dharma and practicing meditation, the Buddhist monks once again return to their social duties. At the end of Buddhist Lent, it's also time for another big celebration, referred to as 'Ok Phansa.' Thai Buddhists celebrate this occasion by offering food and lavish gifts to monks.

The legend of Ok Phansa has it that the Lord Buddha retreated to heaven to deliver a sermon to his mother who had died seven days after his birth. After staying there for three months, the Lord Buddha completed his mission and returned to earth. People welcomed his return with great joy and excitement. Even the gods and goddesses joined in the ceremonies welcoming the Lord Buddha.

Descending from heaven on the triple stairways of gold, silver and precious gems were an escort of angels, the monks who followed Lord Buddha to heaven and the Lord Buddha himself at the center. The people made special offerings of foods, flowers and gifts to celebrate the return of the Lord Buddha.

From this legend, it became a tradition that Buddhist monks also need three months of retreat. During this time, they study the scriptures and practice meditation. They are forbidden from staying elsewhere outside the temples. After three months, the monks will once again adopt their social responsibilities that include preaching and teaching dharma to the people.

In many Ok Phansa ceremonies, a Buddha image is placed in a decorated cart and brought down from a hill, just like the legendary descent from heaven. People line up along the route and place offerings of food in large alms bowls before the image and also to the monks who follow.

In the succeeding days after lent, monks are offered new robes in a ceremony called 'Thod Kathin'. This merit-making ceremony lasts for a month and is practiced nationwide.

Tak Bat Devo On this occasion, lavish celebrations are organized throughout the kingdom. In the central region, the ceremony is called 'Tak Bat Devo' which means "offering of food to the Buddhist monks.' The people in the south call the ceremony 'Chak Phra', which means the 'pulling of the Buddhist monks.'

Chak Phra is celebrated in southern provinces such as Nakhon Si Thammarat, Pattani, Phattalung, Songkhla and Yala. But the most impressive celebrations take place on the Tapi River in Surat Thani where the ceremony is organized both on land and in the river.

People in the northeastern region also celebrate this auspicious occasion. Outstanding ceremonies in the northeast include the Wax Castle festival in Sakon Nakhon and the Lai Rua Fai festival in Nakhon Phanom. Both are well-recognized Ok Phansa celebrations. The events are made all the more impressive with decorated traditional boat races, cultural performances, parades and regattas.

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