Asalha Puja is a Theravada Buddhist festival, one of the most important festivals in Theravada Buddhism. The celebration takes place on the full moon day of the eighth lunar month, which is typically in July. It celebrates the Buddha’s first sermon – the “Sermon in the Deer Park” at Sarnath in India. In this sermon, the Buddha set out to his five former associates the doctrine that had come to him following his enlightenment.
This first pivotal sermon is often referred to as “setting into motion the wheel of dhamma” and is the teaching which is encapsulated in the Four Noble Truths: there is suffering (dukkha), suffering is caused by craving (tanha), there is a state beyond suffering and craving (nibbana), and the way to nirvana is via the Noble Eightfold Path. At the end of the talk, one of the five participants recounted his understanding of the sermon and asked to be received as a disciple. The Buddha granted this request, therefore establishing the first order of monks.
Asalha Puja is mostly celebrated in countries with large Theravada Buddhist populations, including Cambodia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. Observant Buddhists go to temple and listen to sermons, as well as make offerings to images of the Buddha to honour him on that day. Some people also listen to monks recite the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, which is the Buddha’s first teaching. Monks also light the temple grounds with candles, and lead followers around the grounds in a candlelit procession.