Magha Puja

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Māgha Pūjā
Magha Puja.jpg
The Buddha giving a discourse on Māgha Pūjā
Also calledSaṅgha Day[1][2]
Fourfold Assembly Day[1]
Observed byCambodian, Lao, Burmese, Sri Lankan and Thai Theravāda Buddhists
TypeBuddhist, cultural
SignificanceA historical meeting was held between the Buddha and his first 1,250 disciples
CelebrationsShwedagon Pagoda Festival
Observancesprocession with light, general merit-making activities
DateFull moon day of the 3rd lunar month
2019 date19 February[3]
Related toChotrul Duchen (in Tibet)
Daeboreum (in Korea)
Koshōgatsu (in Japan)
Lantern Festival (in China)
Tết Nguyên tiêu (in Vietnam)[4]
Translations of
(UNGEGN: Meak Bochea)
(Makha Buxa)
Sinhalaනවම් පොහොය
(Navam Poya[5])
(RTGS: Makha Bucha Day[6])
Glossary of Buddhism

Māgha Pūjā (also written as Macha Bucha Day) is the second most important Buddhist festival,[1] celebrated on the full moon day of the third lunar month[2] in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Sri Lanka and on the full moon day of Tabaung in Myanmar. It celebrates a gathering that was held between the Buddha and 1,250 of his first disciples, which, according to tradition, preceded the custom of periodic recitation of discipline by monks. On the day, Buddhists celebrate the creation of an ideal and exemplary community, which is why it is sometimes called Saṅgha Day, the Saṅgha referring to the Buddhist community, and for some Buddhist schools this is specifically the monastic community.[1] In Thailand, the Pāli term Māgha-pūraṇamī is also used for the celebration, meaning 'to honor on the full moon of the third lunar month'.[7] Finally, some authors have also referred to the day as the Buddhist All Saints Day.[8]

Celebration of Māgha Pūjā is first known of in the modern period, with the institution of it in Thailand, by King Rama IV (1804–68). It is a public holiday in some South and Southeast Asian countries and is an occasion when Buddhists go to the temple to perform merit-making activities, such as alms giving, meditation and listening to teachings. It has been proposed as a more spiritual alternative to the celebration of Valentine's Day.

Etymology and date[edit]

Māgha is derived from the name of the third month in the traditional Indian lunar calendar, on which the celebration is held.[7] It is also the name of a star, which during this period is close to the full moon.[9] Māgha Pūjā is held on the full moon day. In a leap year, the celebration will be postponed to the full moon day of the fourth lunar month.[7]


Māgha Pūjā day marks an event occurring at the Veḷuvana grove, near Rājagaha (present Rajgir) in northern India,[1][10] ten months after the enlightenment of the Buddha. The traditional story goes that a meeting is held in the afternoon, that has four characteristics:[11]

  1. 1,250 disciples come to see the Buddha that evening without being summoned;[1] These are mostly pupils from the Buddha's recently converted disciples, such as the three Kassapa brothers, and the monks Sāriputta and Mogallāna.[12]
  2. All of them are Arahants, enlightened disciples;[2]
  3. All have been ordained by the Buddha himself, and therefore are his direct spiritual descendants;[2][6]
  4. It is the full-moon day of the third lunar month.[2]

Because of these four factors, Māgha Pūjā is also known as the Fourfold Assembly Day. On this occasion, the Buddha teaches those arahants a summary of Buddhism, called the Ovādapatimokkha.[1] In these, three principles are given:

"The non-doing of evil / the full performance of what is wholesome / the total purification of the mind."[13][14]

This is followed by a formulation of Buddhist ideals:[15]

"Patience (and) forbearance are the highest austerity. The awakened ones say nibbāna is the highest. One is certainly not a wanderer if one injures others; one is not an ascetic if one harms another."[16]

Finally, the last stanza is about the path of religious practice:[15]

"Not abusing, not injuring, and restraint under the rules of discipline, and knowing moderation in eating, and secluded lodgings, and exertion in respect of higher thought, this is the teaching of the awakened ones."[16]

According to the traditional Pāli commentaries, the Buddha continued to teach this summary for a period of twenty years, after which the custom was replaced by the recitation of the monastic code of discipline by the Saṅgha themselves.[17] On Māgha Pūjā, Buddhists celebrate the creation of an ideal and exemplary community.[1]

Māgha Pūjā is also the day that the Buddha is believed to have announced in Vesālī that he would die (parinibbāna) in three months, and after the announcement a miraculous earthquake followed.[18] Moreover, In Sri Lanka, it is considered the day that the Buddha appointed his two main disciples, the monks Sāriputta and Moggallāna.[19] Apart from the religious meaning, Māgha Pūjā also reflects the Southeast Asian agricultural year, as it is celebrated after the harvest.[13]


It is unknown how traditional Buddhist societies celebrated this event in pre-modern times, but in Thailand, the first known instance was during the reign of the Thai king Rama IV (1804–68), who instituted it.[20][21] He first held it in the palace only. In the evening, 31 monks would recite the Ovādapatimokkha, lit lanterns around the ubosot (ordination hall), and give a sermon about the same Ovādapatimokkha.[22] A recitation text used for this occasion is attributed to Rama IV.[9] Rama IV's successor Rama V (1853–1910) expanded the practice and organized it as a national celebration in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. From Thailand, the practice spread to neighboring countries.[20] Already in 1937, the ceremony was widely held and observed in Thailand.[23]

Celebrations and observances[edit]

Māgha Pūjā is a day that laypeople make merit. Monastics and devotees will hold processions, light candles, and make offerings.[6] Māgha Pūjā is celebrated most extensively in Thailand,[24] but it is a national holiday in most Southeast Asian countries,[25] such as Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.[26]

In Thailand, Māgha Pūjā was instituted by Rama IV.[27] It is currently designated as a national holiday,[28][24] on which sale of alcohol has been strictly prohibited since 2010.[29] On the evening of Māgha Pūjā, most temples in Thailand hold a candlelight procession called a wian thian (wian meaning to circle around; thian meaning candle).[25][21] Furthermore, people will make merit by going to temples and by joining in with activities, such as listening to teachings, giving alms, etc.[21] At times, special events are also held, such as a recital of the entire Buddhist scriptures and ceremonies for avowing oneself as a Buddhist lay person.[30] In 2006, the government of Thailand made an announcement that Māgha Pūjā should be celebrated as a "national day of gratitude". This has been intended as an alternative to Valentine's Day, in which Thai youth often aim to lose their virginity. Māgha Pūja was therefore presented as a day of spiritual love and gratitude instead.[21]

A youth program held in Thailand. The youth are joining in with a Māgha Pūjā celebration.

In Sri Lanka and Cambodia, Māgha Pūjā is also observed.[31][19] In Chinese communities,[32] as well as in Myanmar,[26] a similar festival as Māgha Pūjā is observed. The Burmese people celebrate this on the full moon of the month Tabaung according to their traditional calendar.[33][26] Fifteen days before this full moon day, a Shwedagon Pagoda Festival is held, on which a ceremony is held for offerings to the 28 Buddhas (from Taṇhaṅkara to Gotama Buddha), followed by a 10-day, continuous recital of Buddhist texts.[34][26] Burmese devotees make merits and meditate during this period.[35] Other pagoda festivals are held in this period, including the Shwe Settaw Pagoda Festival in Magwe Region's Minbu Township and the Alaungdaw Kathapa Pagoda Festival, near the Alaungdaw Kathapa National Park in Sagaing Region.[36][37]

Māgha Pūjā has also become a popular event among Western Buddhist converts in the West.[1][24]

See also[edit]

  • List of Buddhist festivals
  • Chotrul Duchen, a festival celebrated in Tibet as an Uposatha day and falls on around the same day as Māgha Pūjā
  • First Full Moon Festival, a festival celebrated in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam as an Uposatha day and to mark the end of the Lunar New Year, falling on or around the same day as Māgha Pūjā


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Sangha Day". BBC. 7 May 2004. Archived from the original on 18 December 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e Irons 2008, p. 199.
  3. ^ O'Brien, Barbara (9 September 2018). "The Buddhist Holidays: An Online Illustrated Calendar for 2018–2019". ThoughtCo. Dotdash. Archived from the original on 17 October 2018.
  4. ^ Artley, Malvin (2014). The Full Moons: Topical Letters In Esoteric Astrology. ISBN 978-1-4566-2227-5.
  5. ^ Robertson 1998.
  6. ^ a b c Bhaskar 2009, pp. 259–60.
  7. ^ a b c Pengvipas 2013, p. 47.
  8. ^ Wells 1960, p. 79.
  9. ^ a b Wells 1960, p. 78.
  10. ^ Melton 2011, p. 538, Magha Puja Day.
  11. ^ Pengvipas 2013, p. 48.
  12. ^ Polsompop, Thawee (11 March 2018). "Archived copy" มาฆบูชา [Māgha Pūjā]. Matichon (in Thai). Archived from the original on 22 January 2019. Retrieved 22 January 2019.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ a b Swearer 2010, p. 38.
  14. ^ Melton 2011, p. 538, Māgha Pūjā.
  15. ^ a b Pengvipas 2013, pp. 50–1.
  16. ^ a b Norman 1997, p. 28.
  17. ^ Payutto 1993, p. 575.
  18. ^ See Bhaskar (2009, pp. 259–60), Ling & Axelrod (1979, p. 70) and Polsompop, Thawee (11 March 2018). มาฆบูชา [Māgha Pūjā]. Matichon (in Thai). Retrieved 22 January 2019. Only the last source mentions Vesālī and the earthquake.
  19. ^ a b Udugama, Udumbara (10 February 2017). "Significance of Navam Poya". Sunday Times. Archived from the original on 22 January 2019. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
  20. ^ a b Melton 2011, pp. 538, 699, Māgha Pūjā Day, Ploughing Day.
  21. ^ a b c d 7 เรื่องน่ารู้ วันมาฆบูชา 2561 [7 interesting facts about this year's Māgha Pūjā]. Thai Rath (in Thai). 1 March 2017. Archived from the original on 1 March 2018.
  22. ^ Pengvipas 2013, p. 49.
  23. ^ Wells 1960, p. 79, n.1.
  24. ^ a b c Melton 2011, p. 539, Magha Puja Day.
  25. ^ a b Ling & Axelrod 1979, p. 70.
  26. ^ a b c d "Archived copy" บรรยากาศวันมาฆบูชาในย่างกุ้ง [Atmosphere on Māgha Pūjā Day in Yangoon]. New 18 (in Thai). 2018. Archived from the original on 22 January 2019. Retrieved 22 January 2019.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  27. ^ Melton 2011, p. 699, Ploughing Day.
  28. ^ Tetsunori, 幸泉 & コイズミ 2004, p. 182.
  29. ^ "Archived copy" ตร.เข้ม ห้ามขายเหล้าวันมาฆบูชา ชี้ฝ่าฝืนโทษทั้งจำทั้งปรับ [Police strictly prohibits alcohol sales on Māgha Pūjā and points out that violations are punished by both fines and imprisonment]. Thai Rath (in Thai). 19 February 2016. Archived from the original on 3 May 2017. Retrieved 22 January 2019.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  30. ^ Jaichalard, Pakamard (28 February 2007). "Complete Tripitaka reading in honour of HM the King". The Nation. Archived from the original on 27 December 2015.
  31. ^ Cheam 2018, p. 52.
  32. ^ Irons 2008, p. 542.
  33. ^ "Banned festival resumed at Shwedagon Pagoda". Mizzima News. 22 Feb 2012. Archived from the original on 25 February 2012.
  34. ^ Thein, Cherry (10 Mar 2008). "Shwedagon Tabaung festival". Myanmar Times. Archived from the original on 29 June 2013. Retrieved 8 Mar 2012.
  35. ^ "Meritorious deeds performed at religious edifices throughout nation on Full Moon Day of Tabodwe". New Light of Myanmar. 19 Mar 2011. Archived from the original on November 13, 2011.
  36. ^ Moh Moh Thaw (28 Mar 2011). "Pilgrims flock to Shwesettaw for Tabaung". Myanmar Times. Archived from the original on 9 September 2012. Retrieved 8 March 2012.
  37. ^ Thein, Cherry (2 Jan 2012). "Trustees ready remote Alaungdaw Kathapa for festival season". Myanmar Times. Archived from the original on 26 September 2012. Retrieved 8 March 2012.


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