Magha Puja

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Magha Puja (Maka Buja, Full Moon Day)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Buddhist)
Date of Observation: February-March; full moon day of the third lunar month
Where Celebrated: India, Laos, Thailand, and by Buddhists around the world
Symbols and Customs: Circumambulation, Five Precepts, Meritorious Deeds, Ovadha Patimokha


Magha Puja is part of the religious tradition of Buddhism, one of the four largest religious families in the world. Buddhism is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (c. 563-483 B . C . E .), who came to be known as Buddha, or "The Enlightened One." The basic tenets of Buddhism can be summarized in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths are 1) the truth and reality of suffering; 2) suffering is caused by desire; 3) the way to end suffering is to end desire; and 4) the Eightfold Path shows the way to end suffering. The Eightfold Path consists of 1) right view or right understanding; 2) right thoughts and aspirations; 3) right speech; 4) right conduct and action; 5) right way of life; 6) right effort; 7) right mindfulness; and 8) right contemplation.

Magha Puja is an important day for Buddhists everywhere and a national holiday in Thailand. It commemorates two events in Buddhist history. The first event was the day on which 1,250 Arahants or enlightened monks-all of whom had been ordained by the Buddha himself-spontaneously gathered at the Veluvan Monastery in Rajagriha, India, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Magadha. This was considered a miraculous occurrence because none of them had been specifically invited, nor did they know that so many others would be there. The Buddha delivered a sermon to them, known as the OVADHA PATIMOKHA , in which he laid down the basic precepts of Buddhism. The second event commemorated on this day occurred shortly before the Buddha's death, when he told his disciples that his earthly life would end and he would enter into Nirvana on the full moon day of the sixth lunar month, exactly three months after Magha Puja.

Magha Puja was not observed in Thailand until the reign of King Rama IV, who realized its significance and declared in 1851 that it would henceforth be celebrated annually. Today, Buddhists in Thailand and elsewhere observe Magha Puja by gathering at their local temples, where they observe the FIVE PRECEPTS , listen to sermons, carry out MERITORIOUS DEEDS , and join in the CIRCUMAMBULATION ritual.



One of the highlights of the Magha Puja celebration is the candlelight procession known as wien tien, which takes place in the temple at dusk when the full moon is rising. Led by praying monks, Buddhist worshippers carrying candles, incense sticks, and flowers make three complete circuits around the main chapel or shrine where the image of the Buddha is kept. They walk with their right sides turned toward Buddha, a sign of respect, and focus on the basic precepts of Buddhism (see FIVE PRECEPTS and OVADHA PATIMOKHA ).

Five Precepts

The so-called "five precepts" of Buddhism are the basic rules governing moral conduct: to refrain from injuring others and to avoid stealing, lying, and unchaste or intemperate behavior, which includes the use of intoxicants. Magha Puja is a time for reflecting on these principles and on how they can be manifested in one's daily life.

Meritorious Deeds

The meritorious or "merit-making" deeds performed by Buddhists on Magha Puja include preparing and offering food to monks, giving alms to the poor, practicing meditation, attending sermons, chanting prayers, and participating in the wien tien or CIRCUMAMBULATION ritual. It is also common on this day to free birds and fish who have lived in captivity. Magha Puja

Ovadha Patimokha

It was during the sermon, referred to as Ovadha Patimokha (Fundamental Teaching), given by the Buddha to the 1,250 Buddhist monks assembled at the Veluvan Temple that he proclaimed the basic tenets of Buddhist belief: to refrain from evil acts, to perform good deeds, and to purify the mind.


Bechert, Heinz, and Richard Gombrich. The World of Buddhism. New York: Facts on File, 1984. Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Parrinder, Geoffrey. A Dictionary of Non-Christian Religions. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1971. Van Straalen, Alice. The Book of Holidays Around the World. New York: Dutton, 1986.


Thai Folk Library

Magha Puja (Maka Buja, Full Moon Day)

March-April; full moon night of third lunar month
This important Buddhist holy day is celebrated in India, Laos (as Makha Bouxa ), and Thailand, where it is a national holiday. The day commemorates the occasion when 1,250 followers ordained by the Buddha arrived by coincidence at Veluvan Monastery in Rajagriha, Bihar, India, to hear him lay down monastic regulations and predict his own death and entry with Nirvana in three months' time. On this day there are sermons in the temples throughout the day, and monks spend the day chanting. The people perform acts of merit-making, such as offering food to monks and freeing captive birds and fish. After sunset, monks lead followers in walking three times around the chapels of monasteries. Each person carries flowers, glowing incense, and a lighted candle in homage to the Buddha. In Laos, the ceremonies are especially colorful at Vientiane and at the Khmer ruins of Wat Ph near Champasak.
BkHolWrld-1986, Mar 6
EncyRel-1987, vol. 2, p. 551
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 105
RelHolCal-2004, p. 218
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