Buddhist Lent candles light way during ‘rains retreat’

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Long before Pattaya Beach became an international tourist resort, back when rice paddies outnumbered streets, Thailand’s farmers didn’t want monks trampling their crops. So, for three months, priests stayed inside their temples and the tradition of Buddhist Lent candles was born.

At the start of Lent, or Khao Phansa, villagers made merit by supplying monks with food, sweets and other offerings. Giving candles, lanterns and lights was deemed especially important, as it was believed they provided monks with illumination physically and spiritually.

Buddhists have been presenting candles to monks for thousands of years during Khao Phansa.Buddhists have been presenting candles to monks for thousands of years during Khao Phansa.

The tradition continues today, with candle contests and parades highlighting the start of each year’s “rains retreat.”

Pisan Jariyaphiwat, abbot of Chaimongkol Temple and head of the Naklua monk’s committee, said about 2,000 followers turned out this year to make merit by offering robes, candles and – in a nod to today’s high-tech society – neon light bulbs.

Temples light the candles in their sermon halls for prayers, Pisan explained. Among the most-honored gifts this year, he said, were candles donated by HRH Princess Ubolratana.

The decoration of lent candles is believed to have started with Phra Auruth, a disciple of Lord Buddha who was wise, intelligent, and clear on all dharma principles. Followers retained the tradition, believing it would bring merit for oneself while building intelligence in this life and the next.

The giver would experience prosperity, pride, dignity, progress, and problems in one’s life would be solved through the merit making, including being loved by one’s friends and co-workers.