Ubon Ratchathani marks the beginning of rains retreat with spectacular candle festival


A great number of Thai and international tourists are visiting Ubon Ratchathani province in the Northeast for a grand candle festival held throughout the month of July.

The highlight of the festival takes place from 22 July to 5 August 2012 in observance of the annual Buddhist Lent, or Buddhist Rains Retreat. Known among Thais as Khao Phansa, the three-month Buddhist Lent this year begins on August 3.

Ubon Ratchathani has organized the candle festival as one of the province’s major cultural events for 35 years now. Thung Si Mueang Park is a major spot for the candle procession, comprising ornately-carved traditional beeswax candles of various shapes and sizes. The festival features contests of candles carved in various categories, a bazaar of community products, a food fair, and various performances.

It also includes an international wax carving joined by sculptors from Japan, Ukraine, Argentina, among other countries. The event takes place at the Ubon Ratchathani National Museum, where the participating international sculptors will show their artistic creations in an exhibition of wax sculptures. The Tourism Authority of Thailand has arranged tour programs for tourists to visit candle communities there where they may join wax candle carving.

In fact, the candle festival is held in many places in Thailand during this period of the year, with activities varying from region to region of the country. But this festival in Ubon Ratchathani is unique and it is included in the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s tourism calendar. Ubon Ratchathani is noted for quality beeswax, and it has long been a tradition for local people to present carved beeswax candles to temples to celebrate the Buddhist Lent. Larger and higher candles can be carved into the figures of mythological creatures, such as the garuda, half bird, half man, and the naga, guardian serpent.

The idea behind the offering of candles to monasteries in the past was to provide monks and novices with light for reading sacred Buddhist scriptures during the rains retreat. Although electricity supplies are now available in all corners of the country, the tradition of presenting candles to monks and novices during the Buddhist Lent still remains.

The celebration of the candle festival is meant to pay tribute to the Triple Gem in Buddhism, which includes the Buddha, his teachings, or Dhamma, and his disciples, or the Sangha. Candle crafting is a delicate art, making a name for Ubon Ratchathani, where local people still preserve their age-old traditions and folk culture.

About 600 kilometers from Bangkok, Ubon Ratchathani has been a well-established community for hundreds of years. It has many old temples and boasts numerous historical and natural attractions. The celebration of the candle festival in Ubon Ratchathani has been continued from generation to generation.