Asalha Puja, known as Asalha Puja or Dhamma Day, pays tribute to Buddha by celebrating his birth in the month of October and his first sermon. The day also marks the start of the annual worship of the Three jewels of Buddhism: Buddha, Dhamma, and Sanghra, which are collectively called the Buddha Shastras. The word Asalha literally means “asphalt,” which is what most of the streets in Bangkok are actually made of.
This is because they are built up primarily of mud, which is one of the five elements associated with Buddhism. It is believed that Asalha Puja was created so that people may be able to meditate after being covered in mud for a period of time, which is one of the requirements for Buddhist meditation.
When is Asalha Puja?
There are two Asalha Puja ceremonies – Dhamma puja and Asalha Sattva puja. Each follows a different sequence of events, but basically end the same. The first ceremony, Dhamma Purna, is conducted in a small town square in central Bangkok. This ceremony is conducted just before Asalha Puja begins and marks the start of the Buddhist season, when these ceremonies are particularly widespread.
- Year > 2021
- Date > July 24
- Weekday > Saturday
Asalha Puja or Dhamma Day Meaning
During Asalha Puja Sattva, or “eightfold path” penance, devotees wash their hands and feet in the sacred river. Then, they cut a hole in their palms and pray to Buddha in the hopes that he will provide them with protection from evil and assist them in achieving name, or favorable circumstances. It is believed that by cutting a hole in the palm, the monk is able to reach Buddha.
Asalha Puja (also known as Asadha Puja or Asanha Bucha in Thailand, Thai: อาสาฬหบูชา) is a Theravada Buddhist festival.
History of Asalha Puja
It is believed that this ritual was initiated by Ajatsatru, the founder of Buddhism in India. According to legend, Ajatsatru saw a vision of a Bodhisattva, riding an elephant, guiding the Bodhisattvas. The legend further states that Ajatsatru cut off the head of a cow, symbolizing Buddha’s wisdom, and bellied down the road to establish a monastery.
When asked what he had seen, Ajatsatru answered, “A Bodhisattva is going to teach the people to make the right choice.” As a sign of respect for Ajatsatru’s teaching, his hands and feet were cleansed of dirt and the monks began to ride on the Bodhi tree, a small tree considered sacred in Buddhist teachings.
Asalha Puja Celebrations
In the first week of August, Asalha Puja was celebrated with much grandeur and was attended by hundreds of devotees. The main entrance was guarded by twenty-four elephants who were carrying banners reading “Bodhi – The Place of Ultimate Bliss.” The monks came from as far as Narsipatnam, Thailand and went straight to the monastery. As they arrived there, they heard a Bodhisattva declare, “I have realized the ultimate truth. May everyone who enters the forest of samadhi be enlightened.”
The ceremony was then followed by a week of festivities and rituals at the Ajanta Temple. A special puja was performed by Ajatsatru’s son Jiva and the first sermon of the Buddha’s enlightenment was recited by Ajatsatru himself. As the monks walked towards the threshold of Narsipatnam’s holy grove, they were greeted by a Bodhisattva who offered them the best boon, a good destination, and the best help in making their quest for wisdom a success.
In the ensuing battle, Ashtanga pranayama (bendo & manca) were performed by the soldiers and the bodhisattvas took them to the abode of Buddha. This account of Asalha Puja & Ashtanga pranayama is told by Sunthorn Phu of Banyan sect in his book “Asana and Bhastrika.”