The Buddhist Holiday of Magha Puja or Sangha Day

Fourfold Assembly or Sangha Day

Magha Puja Procession
Buddhist monks in a Magha Puja candlelight procession at Wat Dhammakaya in Bangkok, Thailand. Athit Perawongmetha / Contributor / Getty Images

Magha Puja, also called Sangha Day or Fourfold Assembly Day, is a major uposatha or holy day observed by most Threravada Buddhists on the first full moon day of the third lunar month, usually sometime in February or March.

The Pali word sangha (in Sanskrit, samgha) means "community" or "assembly," and in this case, it refers to the community of Buddhists. In Asia the word usually is used to refer to monastic communities, although it can refer to all Buddhists, lay or monastic. Magha Puja is called “Sangha Day” because it is a day to show appreciation to the monastic sangha.

"Fourfold assembly" refers to all followers of the Buddha -- monks, nuns, and men and women who are lay disciples.

On this day laypeople gather at temples, usually in the morning, bringing with them offerings of food and other items for the monks or nuns. Monastics chant the Ovada-Patimokkha Gatha, which is a summary of the Buddha's teachings. In the evening, often there will be solemn candlelight processions. Monastics and laypeople walk around a shrine or Buddha image or through a temple three times, once for each of the Three JewelsThe Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

The day is called Makha Bucha in Thailand, Meak Bochea in Khmer and the full moon of Tabodwe or Tabaung in Burma (Myanmar).

Background of Magha Puja

Magha Puja commemorates a time when 1,250 enlightened monks, disciples of the historical Buddha, spontaneously came together to pay respect to the Buddha. This was significant because:

  1. All the monks were arhats.
  2. All the monks had been ordained by the Buddha.
  3. The monks came together as if by chance, without any planning or prior appointment
  4. It was the full moon day of Magha (the third lunar month).

When the monks were assembled, the Buddha delivered a sermon called the Ovada Patimokkha in which he asked the monks to do good, to abstain from bad action, and to purify the mind.

Notable Maha Puja Observations

One of the most elaborate Magha Puja observances is held at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Burma. The observance begins with offerings to the 28 Buddhas, including Gautama Buddha, who Theravada Buddhists believe lived in prior ages. This is followed by a nonstop recital of the Pathana, Buddhist teachings on the twenty-four causes of worldly phenomena as taught in the Pali Abhidhamma. This recital takes ten days.

In 1851, King Rama IV of Thailand ordered that a Magha Puja ceremony be held every year forever at Wat Phra Kaew, The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, in Bangkok. To this day a special closed service is held every year in the main chapel for the Thai royal family, and tourists and the public are encouraged to go elsewhere. Fortunately, there are several other beautiful temples in Bangkok in which one may observe Magha Puja. These include Wat Pho, the temple of the giant reclining Buddha, and the splendid Wat Benchamabophit, the Marble Temple.

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O'Brien, Barbara. "The Buddhist Holiday of Magha Puja or Sangha Day." Learn Religions, Aug. 25, 2020, O'Brien, Barbara. (2020, August 25). The Buddhist Holiday of Magha Puja or Sangha Day. Retrieved from O'Brien, Barbara. "The Buddhist Holiday of Magha Puja or Sangha Day." Learn Religions. (accessed February 4, 2023).