Holidays and Regular Observances

What observances are linked with seasonal cycles?

The so-called Rain Retreat (Vassa) begins on the day after the full moon day of the eighth lunar month, Asadha (July/August), and continues until the full moon day of the eleventh lunar month Ashvina (September/October). Monks spend more time in meditation and study and are expected to remain in the monastery. Lay Buddhists visit temples and monasteries more frequently than usual to receive instruction, and marriages are generally not performed. Theravada Buddhists begin the season with monastic ordinations and end it with merit-rituals said to be in memory of Buddha’s emergence from Heaven. Also at the end of the retreat comes the festival called Kathina (“cloth”). During this joyous month-long festivity, laypeople give the monks new robes and other useful gifts. This is a favored time for pilgrimages to southeast Asian sites such as Rangoon’s Shwe Dagon temple and Thailand’s shrine of the Buddha’s Footprint. In connection with the rice harvest in February or March, Theravada devotees make merit by celebrating the story of how the Buddha-to-be entered the world as Prince Vessantara in a previous incarnation.


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