This year the annual 3-month Buddhist Rains Retreat period or Khao Pansa starting on July 23th, 2011, will end on October 19th, known as Awk Pansa. Awk Pansa means “leaving the period of rain” as it also marks the end of the rainy season. Religiously and traditionally the end of the retreat means that once again monks can leave or come out of the temples where they have confined themselves during Khao Pansa.
Awk Pansa is on the first full moon day of the 11th lunar month. Like other major Buddhist holidays this festive occasion is a day of joyful celebrations and joint merit-making activities. For some Thai families, it is also the day they welcome home their sons, considered mature adults, who have just ended their temporary Khao Pansa monkhood.
Many activities of faith take place throughout the country to celebrate Awk Pansa. People would meet in the temples close to their places to listen to sermons preached, and to jointly make merits by presenting food, monk’s robes, and other necessities to the monks. Actually the merit-making period after Awk Pansa known as Tawd Gathin – or the “laying down of robes”, lasts for 30 days from Awk Pansa through to the full moon day of the twelfth lunar month.
The Gathin ceremonies vary from one area to another. Traditionally, they can be done by land or water. In the Northeast or Isan, for example, two real festive and spectacular ceremonies are observed – the Wax Castle Festival in Sakon Nakhon Province, and the Tak Baat Devo Rohana Festival in Udon Thani Province. Both are partipated by large numbers of the local people (and tourists), and characterized by a procession of monks and Buddhists moving along the streets. The illuminated boat procession in Nakhon Panom Province is equally captivating.
The Royal Family presides over the Royal Gathin ceremony. The Royal Gathin Procession or the Royal Barge Procession in Bangkok is an impressive, splendid fleet of ornate vessels – a magnificent spectacle indeed in the Chao Phraya River.
So the Awk Pansa holiday is another good opportunity for foreign visitors to experience some time – honored Thai traditions and ways of life.