03/02/2010, 00.00
THAILAND
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Magha Puja, reminds Thais of the value of peace after the sentencing of Thaksin

by Weena Kowitwanij
It is among the most important festivals of Thai Buddhism. This year it falls a few days after conviction for corruption and misappropriation of the former premier that has brought the nation back to the brink of tensions and riots. Buddhist leader: This is a good time to start doing our best to restore peace in the country.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) - Millions of Thai Buddhists celebrated on 28 February, the day of Magha Puja, which celebrates the values of peace and purification of the spirit taught by Buddha to his first disciples. The festival took place just days after the conviction for corruption and abuse of power of former premier Thaksin, on 26 February that has renewed the risk of riots and tensions in the country. The former premier is accused of having pocketed more than 1.7 billion euros from public funds and bribery and is now in exile in the UAE.  

"Today is a big day for us - said Phrarajsuwanmuni, abbot of the temple Mahathatuworawiharn in Ratchaburi province (80 km from Bangkok) - a day to change our lives by abstaining from evil and the purification of our hearts." The abbot invited all the faithful to meditate and take alms to the poor. Referring to recent scandals linked to the figure of former prime minister the Buddhist leader said: "This is a good time to start doing our best to restore peace in the country. Those who have created problems must take responsibility for their actions".   From Prayoonwongasawas temple in Bangkok the king Bhumibol Adulyadei emphasized the role of the Buddhist religion as a bearer of peace in the world. "The true Buddhist - he said - is one who brings peace and happiness wherever he is."

The Maja Puja is one of the oldest and most important traditional festivals of the Buddhist population and is also celebrated in Laos and Myanmar. Its origin dates back to the fifth century BC, but it became a national holiday in Thailand during the nineteenth century through the cultural reforms of the then King Rama IV. The tradition recalls the revelation to the first disciples of the teachings of Buddha Dharma, the universal law that supports the all reality. According to legend, on the first full moon of the third lunar month (February and March) of 2500 years ago, 1,250 people spontaneously decided to pay homage to the Buddha, gathering around the tree where he was devoted to meditation. Surprised by this gesture, the Buddha began to reveal his teachings to them, beginning the first monastic community of the so-called "awakened" from Dharma. From this moment the first monks with the disciples began to spread the doctrine to the rest of the world.

The day of the Maya Puja is also an occasion to attract tourists and show them the traditional aspects of Thai Buddhism. In the city of Nakhon Srithammaraj (380 km south of the capital) people wear long dresses painted with scenes from Buddha's life, instead of banners and candles. Cartoonist,  Korkit Wirajnakorn, has instead created a series of comic books for children to mark the feast, representing the doctrine of Dharma with cartoons.

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