In Thailand nearly 90% of the population adheres to the Theravada Buddhist religion. The religious customs, traditions and beliefs feature in most aspects of life. Also, there are Hindu and Chinese religious beliefs, as well as animism that have been incorporated into the Thai religion to create a belief system that’s exclusive to Thailand.
History of Buddhism
It is said that Buddhism first arrived in the country at the time of the Ashoka reign (304–232 BC) when Buddhist missionaries instructed by Emperor Ashoka the Great travelled far and wide to spread the message. However, there are also those that believe Buddhism didn’t arrive in Thailand until several centuries later.
But, when Buddhism finally made its way to Thailand, it soon became the national and dominant religion. During the Sukhothai Kingdom in the 13th century, Buddhism was officially regarded as the country’s religion. Ever since that time, all future kings in the country have adhered to the Buddhist traditions.
The culture in the country is strongly influenced by Theravada Buddhism and it is important to be respectful to the local religious beliefs and customs when touring the country on the Thailand travel packages.
Virtually all of the Thai people are Theravada Buddhists, which is also the religion of the country’s monarch. The majority of the Tai-speaking people and plenty of the ethnic minorities are also Buddhists. The Theravada Buddhism that is followed by the locals is a syncretic type of religion that copies certain aspects of early Christianity, Hinduism and animistic beliefs.
A common sign of animism included in the Thai Buddhism faith is the spiritual house associated with most buildings and houses. Most of these houses are put on a pedestal which helps to create a home of the spirits that at associated with the site. These houses are well-decorated and give the opportunity to present with daily offerings. Also, there are plenty of large trees that are seen as a home of the spirits, so are given offerings and also decorated.
About 8% of the population are Muslim which mostly applies to the southern based ethnic Malays. The Christian faithful are quite limited with only 1% of the population following this faith, although there has been a constant drive to increase the followers of this religion with Christian missionaries active in Thailand as far back as the 16th century. Most of the Christian population includes the ethnic Chinese and ethnic Vietnamese, as well as the non-Tai ethnic minorities.
On any well organized Thailand travel, most of the areas visited will have a culture and lifestyle that has seen plenty of influence from Buddhism. Beyond the high number of wats or temples throughout the county, the local Thai people make sure to follow a couple of customs that connect to the Buddhist beliefs.
The Theravada Buddhist locals can pay their respects and visit a temple whenever they want. While at the altar they may make an offering related to candles, incense or lotus buds. It is practical when visiting the temples on the Thailand private tour to avoid disturbing the Buddhists or the altars when making an offering. On entering the Buddhist temples is it possible to either quietly walk around or actually take part in the local customs. In any case, it is important at all time to show respect for the local religious beliefs and traditions.
If planning the sightseeing tour on the Thailand holidays that includes visiting the Buddhist Temples it is practical to dress modestly, while also doing the same in the cities and rural areas. Before being permitted entry to the temples it is important to cover the knees and shoulders. The option to take photos of the temple interior can vary to some agree, while others will strictly prohibit the use of photographic equipment. Also, it is a sign of respect to ask the monks before taking photos.
The majority of Thai followers of Isam are located in the south of the country. The Muslim people have the option to participate in related festivals, and are even given half-day off work on Friday’s which is seen as the Muslim holy day.
The worship or Salat is practiced five times daily and the regular call to prayer is often heard throughout the day in regions of Thailand that practice Islam.
When visiting the towns and villages on the Thailand customized tour it is good manners to avoid interrupting the locals while making their daily Salats. Also, the practice of drinking alcohol is forbidden and should be respected and followed by those travelling to the Muslim villages. Also, the dress worn should include long skirts or long pants while at the same time avoiding crop tops, tank tops, or other clothes that may reveal the stomach or shoulders.
Christianity is one of the less followed religions with most of the Christians congregated in the city areas, such as Bangkok.
Rituals and holy places
Buddhist religious festivals and celebration are a common sight in Thailand throughout the year, with plenty of events that relate to a specific individual or place. The religious calendar for the Buddhist faith starts in mid-April when the themes of the festivals include special alms offered to monks and images of Buddha are washed. A major event is Songkran, which is the Thai New Year celebration that includes fun-filled water-fights, as well as theatrical performances, singing, and dancing.
The Visakha Puja takes place shortly after and is a celebration of Buddha's birth and entrance into nirvana. In July, it is the Khao Phansaa which is the start of the 3 month Lenten period. This is the time the young men become a novice. The period of lent is regarded as a time of spiritual retreat for the monks, who stay within the confines of their monasteries for the duration. From mid-October to mid-November it is Thawt Kathin which notes the end of lent. A common theme during this time is to give the monks monastic robes or other offerings. Also, there are certain communities that celebrate this time by creating new robes for the monks which are made in a single day.