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By Kevin Cain

Makha Bucha (sometimes called Magha Puja) day is one of the most revered and celebrated days in the Buddhist calendar. . Here in Thailand it is respected just as highly as anywhere else in the Buddhist world.

The third lunar month in the Thai language is called Makha, and to venerate or honour is called Bucha. So literally Macha Bucha is honouring the teachings of Buddha on the full moon of the third lunar month.

It was during the reign of King Rama IV also known as Mongkutklao or King Vaijiravudh that the Land of Smiles first started celebrating Makha Bucha day. It was about 150 years ago that King Rama IV recognised the significant importance to Buddhist teachings and that Makha Bucha was one of the most important events in the religion. The king then introduced the festive day and it has gained popularity ever since.

The history of the day is well documented and it was the first time Buddha outlined the three fundamental teachings of Buddhism.

    * Not to do evil

    * To do good

    * To purify the mind

Makha Bucha is celebrated throughout the whole kingdom and fundamentally observed in the same manner everywhere. However, some cities and towns have their own special way of honouring Makha Bucha which makes it even more personal and special for them.

Most Thai's observe Tum Boon or Making Merit and perhaps one of the other four Precepts. The more religious may honour the whole five.

The Five Precepts are known as Rub Sil, they are the basic codes for the ethics of Buddhism: To abstain from harming a living thing, to abstain from stealing, to abstain from all intoxicants, to abstain from backbiting, gossip, telling lies and to abstain from sexual immorality.

The official observance on the day includes four devotional rituals

    * Wien Thien – This is the ritual of circling around a temple three times clockwise bearing candles, incense and flowers and placing

        them at the feet of Buddhist statues.

    * Tum Boon – A very common occurrence during any Buddhist religious day, the act of making merit.

    * Tuk Bard – A form of making merit but specially for monks and novices.

    * Rub Sil – Involves meditative observance of keeping the Five Precepts.

Makha Bucha is celebrated all over the kingdom with differing reverences and practices, obviously the monks and the temples observe the strict teachings but lay people tend to celebrate the day slightly differently.

The King participates in a series of special events and ceremonies. Traditionally the monarch invites thirty monks for breakfast at the royal palace. After which they pray and chant mantras of the Buddha's teachings.

In 1851, King Rama IV ordered that a Makha Bucha ceremony be held every year forever at Wat Phra Kaew and other notable places to celebrate the auspicious occasion in Bangkok are; Golden Mount, Paknam Phasicharoen Temple, Wat Bho and Wat Benjamabopit. Whilst in Pattaya, Wat Chaimongkol is an excellent place to observe the day.

If you are an expat or a tourist who happens to find yourself in the Kingdom on the full moon of the third lunar month then there are a few things that you should bear in mind:

The day is a highly revered and respected religious occasion, so do not be surprised if the local bars and pubs are closed due to a ban on alcohol.

The local supermarkets and stores will probably not be selling alcoholic drinks. Respect this tradition, after all it is only one day and if you are desperate then it is advisable to drink at home.

If however you are intending to embrace the occasion then follow the following guidelines:

    * Remove your shoes entering a temple or religious place

    * Wear appropriate clothing do not turn up in swimming attire, and no hats should be worn

    * If there are any carpets in a temple especially in front of a Buddha do not stand on them

    * Respect devotees offering up prayers

If you happen to be in the south of the country then you will find that observations of the holy day l take place under high security. This is unfortunate, but necessary due to the religious conflicts and unrest happening at the moment.

Wherever you happen to be in Kingdom enjoy celebrating this special religious occasion, it might be very different to anything you have experienced before.