When October comes to Chiang Mai, the beauty of flowers beginning to bloom decorates the variety of tourist attractions with splashes of colours and life. Visiting Chiang Mai in October gives one not only the satisfaction of seeing Chiang Mai in its full beauty, but also of experiencing the life of its people. As with other Thai people, the cultures and traditions of the Chiang Mai people are closely entwined with Buddhism, Thailand’s main religion. One such time honoured tradition that takes place in October is the ‘Auk Phansa’
Auk Phansa marks the end of the three month period called Khao Phansa when Buddhist monks are not permitted to travel from place to place and must stay at a designated temple. Legend has it that this tradition came into existence when the farmers and villagers began to complain that when the monks travelled during the rainy season they trampled on the rice fields and crops of the farmers. When Buddha heard of these complaints, he saw the truth in them, and also realized that while travelling during the rainy season, monks were more liable to kill small animals such as earthworms and field rats (in Buddhism killing, even small animals, is considered a sin). Accordingly, he saw it fit that, for the three months of the rainy season, monks should abstain from travelling and stay stationary at one temple. During this time the monks should learn and practice religion. Only after the three months were over should the monks again be permitted to travel, thus giving birth to the Khao and Auk Phansa traditions.
The Auk Phansa holiday begins on the first day of the full moon of the 11th lunar month. Devout Buddhists meet to make merit by giving dry foods and other necessities to monks, and by listening to sermons being preached. Each person or family goes to the temple near their home, thus also providing the chance for socialising. Buddhists will also go to temples on other, important Buddhist holidays and on Wan Phra (Buddhist Holy Days), to make merit. These occasions provide a good opportunity for those interested to observe the local Thai people and their ways of life.
One important merit making ceremony during this Auk Phansa time is called the ‘Dhevo Rohana Ceremony’. This ceremony takes place on the day after Auk Phansa. Legend has it that this is the day when Buddha came back down to earth after preaching a sermon to his mother who was in heaven.
At this ceremony, an image of Buddha is placed on a moving stand, and is led through the streets, followed by a procession of monks. This is supposed to symbolise the coming down of Buddha from heaven. Buddhists line the procession to place dry foods and other necessities in the bowls that the monks carry, as well as in the bowl placed in front of Buddha images.
The largest and most spectacular of Chiang Mai’s Dhevo Rohana ceremonies takes place at the Phayhin Temple, located at the base of Suthep Mountain, and directly behind Chiang Mal University. Monks from several different temples are asked to join in the ceremony. Buddha’s image is taken out from the temple, led down the steps, and down the road into Chiang Mai University. Behind the image is a procession of hundreds of monks. Buddhists line the streets, and though their number varies from year to year, it is said that there has never been a line less than two kilometres long. There are both university students and Chiang Mai citizens involved in organising and participating in the ceremony which never fails to draw a large crowd of tourists and onlookers interested in observing the ancient traditions of the Chiang Mai people.
It is always a memorable experience when one has the chance to come in contact— to see, to taste, to feel, to live— with the way the local people live. To experience the traditions and ceremonies of the Chiang Mai people is no exception. Why don’t you, along with discovering the natural beauty of this city of old, also take the time to discover the beauty of its people?