Before I get into what the Chak Phra Festival in Surat Thani is all about, I need to cover a few other important events/ceremonies that lead up to this festival.
- Buddhist Lent Period – Vassa
- End of Buddhist Lent Period – Pavarana
- Kathina “Cloth” Ceremony
- King Bhumibol Adulyadej Memorial Day – October 13 (not connected but falls on this same weekend)
- Chak Phra Festival in Surat Thani, Thailand
Buddhist Lent Period – Vassa
The Buddhist monastic retreat observed primarily in Buddhist communities in Southeast Asia during the three-month monsoon period (rainy season) each year. Vassa begins on the first day of the waning moon of the eighth lunar month (usually in July) and ends on the full moon of the eleventh month (usually October). The first day of Thai Lent is referred to as Asalha Puja Day (or Commencement Day). This period may also be referred to as the “rains retreat.”
Other Thai celebrations held during this period are Thai Mothers Day (August 12) and Sart Thai Day (also known as Memorial day, September 23). Thai Mothers day pays respect to all Thai mothers and, in particular, the Queen of Thailand. Sart Thai Day is a celebration of the beginning of the harvest and is an opportunity to thank the deities for a successful harvest.
End of Buddhist Lent Period – Wan Ok Phansa
This day marks the end of the rains retreat (vassa). This day is also known as Wan Ok Phansa (Thai: วันออกพรรษา; literally “the Final Day of the Vassa“) and marks the end of ‘Buddhist Lent’ (Wan Khao Phansa). It’s also known as the end of the “rains retreat” and the beginning of Krathin. This day falls annually on the full moon of the eleventh lunar month. With the end of this period, monks can return to their social duties and travel.
According to legend Ok Phansa also celebrates the Buddha‘s return to earth, after spending one Lent season, which is 3 month long, preaching in heaven. It also marks the end of the Lent period of retreat and the beginning of Krathin, the traditional time for presenting new robes and other essentials to monks at temples throughout the country. This ceremony must be completed within one month of the end of Buddhist lent and only one ceremony in a year.
Cloth Ceremony – Kathina
During Lent (roughly the rainy season in Thailand) monks could not travel. The monks stayed overnight in the same temple for three lunar months. The Kathina ceremony originates from the time of Buddha. The original ceremony was for a group of monks traveling to meet Lord Buddha. They were unable to completed their journey before the beginning of the rains retreat (Lent). At the end of Lent, they completed their journey. Their clothes had become soaked and dirty on their way to meet Lord Buddha. When Buddha saw their condition, he allowed lay people to offer the monks yellow robes. The tradition of presenting robes to monks continues today in the Kathina ceremony.
From a historical perspective the word Krathina has four meanings associated with it:
- A wooden frame used as a tool to stretch out a piece of cloth before sewing a new robe
- Any piece of cloth offered to the monks to make new robes with the tool described above
- The name of the merit making ceremony. This ceremony occurs once a year and is considered a day to gain great merit. Robes are presented to monks in general, not to one particular monk.
- The name of the Buddhist ritual.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej Memorial Day – October 13
Another holiday that happens this weekend is the commemoration of the death of the late King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej. This national holiday in Thailand is held annually on 13 October. However, this year the 13th falls on a weekend day, so the holiday will be observed on the following Monday, 14th October 2019.
Chak Phra Festival in Surat Thani, Thailand
Now that I have covered all of ceremonies involved with the Thai Buddhist Lent period how does Chak Phra Festival in Surat Thani fit into all of this?
The Chak Phra Festival (งานชักพระ/Ngan Chak Phra), in the southern Thai province of Surat Thani, celebrates Buddha’s symbolic return to earth at the end of Buddhist Lent (ออกพรรษา/Ok Phansa). It is the most important festival in Surat Thani and lasts for 9 days and 9 nights. In 2019, the festival runs from 10 October – 18 October.
Main activities include:
- Putting up “Donation Trees” ชักพุ่มผ้าป่า/Chak Phum Pha Pa in front of houses for the Buddhist monks. These donation trees are like Buddhist Christmas trees decorated with money, food, toiletries, and other items that the monks may need. There are over 2,000 registered donation trees around Muang Surat Thani.
- Display of ceremonial land floats เรือพนมพระทางบก /Ruea Phanom Phra Thang Bok from 130 temples
- Pulling of the ceremonial land floats ชักพระ/Chak Phra during a morning parade
- Dragon Boat Races แข่งเรือยาว/Khaeng Ruea Yao
- Ceremonial river floats เรือพนมพระ/Reua Phanom Phra
- Colourful displays of the Buddha’s life cycle พุ่มผ้าป่า/Phum Pha Pa
- Eating the traditional boiled rice snack of “belief & generosity” ขนมต้ม/Khanom Tom
Stay tuned for more posts on this event over the next few days.