They aim to celebrate the important days in the life of Buddha and introduce the newer generation to His teachings and philosophies. Some festivals are celebrated worldwide while others are restricted to specific countries. The festivals celebrated in specific countries also honour all those personalities also who have had a hand in spreading this great religion in the country.
Buddhist New Year
Different parts of the countries celebrate Buddhist New Year on different days for countries like Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, Cambodia celebrate in the month of April for three days from the first full moon whereas for the Mahayana countries it falls in the month of January on the first full moon day. The way of celebrating also varies depending upon the origin and the culture but with the same spirit and gaiety. Each people of the religion hope the best for the coming years and to rectify the mistakes they did in the past and not to repeat it in future. They offer prayers to the sculptures of Buddha and pay their tribute to the god. Without lighting of candles in the temples and cracking fire works the New Years Eve is not complete and of course special traditional dishes like prepanavy are another New Year treat.
The full moon of the month of Vaisakh has special significance because on this day the Buddha was born attained enlightenment and attained Nirvana when he died. This strange three fold coincidence, gives Buddha Purnima its unique significance. On this day the people bathe and wear only white clothes. They gather in their viharas for worship and give alms to monks. Many spend the entire day at the vihara listening to discourses on the life and teachings of Buddha or invite monks to their home. On this day Buddhists refrain from eating meat and eat kheer which they share with the poor. During Buddha Purnima Buddhists make Vaisakh Vakats out of bamboo, festoon them with stars and decorate their houses with them. Some people also drape the walls of their homes with paper or cloth depicting incidents from Jataka tales which are based on incarnations of the Buddha prior to his birth as Prince Gautama.
Festival of Floating Bowls
This festival is believed to be started some 700 years ago and usually takes place on the full moon night of the Twelfth Lunar month during which the rivers gushes with water. This is also called as Loy Krathong Festival where
Loy means 'to float' and Krathong means a basket-boat carrying small flowers and other offerings and they are generally made of banana leaves, spider lily plant or banana trunk .Loy Krathong Festival signifies the journey of human soul across the world of flesh and blood. Thus the event of the festival is that the people light the joss stick and candle and make a wish and drop these into the Krathong along with betel nuts, coins, food and flowers and let them float in the water, hoping their wish becomes true.
The ploughing festival is also known as Raek Na which signifies the first enlightenment o Buddha at the age of seven and also marks the beginning of the official rice planting season. It usually falls in the sixth lunar month which coincides with the month of May as per the Gregorian calendar. During the eve of this festival the Buddhists perform certain rites and rituals to find out the amount of rain that will fall and the crop that will give best yield. The festival is carried out by Phya Raek Nah who is the Lord of the Festival and is presided by His Majesty. There are three cloths, all of different lengths. Out of these three the Lord of the festival, who is oblivious of which is big or small amongst them, picks up one. This indicates the amount of rainfall in the year. Then the oxens are decorated and brought were they are give to eat with food like rice, beans, maize, sesame or hay and from this it is calculated the food which is first eaten by the oxen is supposed to give a good crop in the coming year.
Makha Bucha Festival
This festival falls on the third lunar month and is generally declared as a public holiday in most of the Buddhists country. Makha Bucha is an important community festival for the people to to reaffirm their faith and commitment to Buddhist practices and traditions. On this day people visit the temple and take part in a candlelit procession in the temple either in the morning or in the evenng.This procession is usually presided by His Majesty the King.
Elephant is one of the most favourite animals of the Buddhists and in order to honour this animal, the elephant festival is celebrated on the third Saturday of November month. The highlight of this festival is that various games are conducted to test the animals intelligence and strength and more than 100 elephants from different parts of the Buddhists Kingdom take part in it.
The Ullambana festival which reinforces the concept of filial piety is celebrated in the month of August and usually lasts around half a month. This is mainly celebrated to perform good deeds and add good karma and then share this karma with the departed souls, to help them reborn in good realms and end their suffering. Thus during Ullambana festival ceremonies of charity are held.