Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Vesak

Buddhist monks lead a procession around Wat That Thong on Vesak. 

Vesak is the most sacred of Theravada Buddhist holy days. It marks three important occasions in the Buddha's life: his birth, his enlightenment and his death. The three events are marked as separate holy days in the Mahayana tradition, but Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, Nepal and other Theravada countries Vesak is a very important holy day. 

Last year I photographed Vesak at a Burmese temple in Mae Sot. This year I stayed in Bangkok. I went to Wat That Thong, a few blocks from our Bangkok apartment. 
People gather on the plaza in Wat That Thong before Vesak services started. The streaked lights are from candles people carried as they walked around the temple. 

The temple complex was packed. Thousands of people streamed into the complex throughout the evening. When the wihan (prayer hall) filled, people sat on the steps around it. Inside, monks chanted. Outside some people prayed quietly while other walked in a procession around the wihan. 

When the monks finished their chanting they participated in a procession around the temple. At some temples I've been to monks led the lay people around the temple. At Wat That Thong, monks walked around the wihan's portico while the lay people walked around the wihan at ground level. 

On the edges of the plaza, people lit candles and incense and made merit by leaving flowers or cash donations. 
Vesak 2014 - Images by Jack Kurtz

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