Unlike the rest of the world, Bhutanese celebrate Mother's Day on the Descending Day of Lord Buddha
The Descending Day of Lord Buddha is to honour the day Lord Buddha returned to the human realm. During this festival, the Bhutanese pilgrimage to monasteries where they light a butter lamp.
The Descending Day of Lord Buddha, also known as Lhabab Duchen, falls on the 22nd day of the ninth month of the Bhutanese calendar. This might be a different day on the Gregorian calendar every year, but usually, it falls around November. In 2021, the Descending Day of Lord Buddha is celebrated on 27th October.
The legend behind the day
As the name suggests, this is the day Lord Buddha descended back to earth.
According to legend, the Buddha had entered the womb of Queen Yum Jumalhazay in the form of a white elephant. The Queen conceived after a divine dream of a white elephant entering her womb. When the date of delivery approached, the Queen left for her parents’ house in Nepal to give birth.
Along the way, she gave birth to Prince Siddhartha in Lumbini, Nepal, who became the Buddha. Soon after he was born, the Prince took seven steps and lotus flowers sprung up where he walked. The Queen rerouted to return to the palace. Sadly, she passed away seven days after the Prince was born.
The Prince grew up under the watchful eye of his father the King and other compatriots. One day, he left the palace, riding on his horse with a concierge. Outside the palace gates, he encountered the realities of worldly life: birth, illness, old age, and death. When he asked his companions what he was witnessing, he was told that it was the circle of life.
With resolve in his heart, the Prince decided to become a monk to achieve enlightenment. The Prince went back to the palace and devoted the rest of his life toward learning dharma, forsaking worldly life.
The practice of the dharma brought hardship to the Prince. One day, he met Lord Mara, and achieved enlightenment under a Bodhi tree. By the age of 41, the Buddha had been enlightened for six years.
It was at the age of 41 that the Buddha had a vision that his mother was stuck in Trayastrimsa (the Heaven of Thirty-Three) after her death. Thus he ascended there to offer his teachings to the gods and free his mother from Samsara.
Lord Buddha had been there for about 90 days when his disciple Maudgalyayana begged him to return to the human realm. The gods there could descend to the human realm because of their celestial power but there was a long debate on whether a human could get to the Heaven of Thirty-Three to see the Buddha.
After serious deliberation, Lord Buddha decided that he would return to earth for seven days after the night of the full moon. Lord Indira, the ruler of Heaven of Thirty-Three, ordered Vishwakarma, the god of machines, to present three ladders to the Buddha to descend. The ladders were made of gold, beryl, and silver.
A week later on the 22nd day of the ninth lunar month, the Buddha descended the ladder. He was flanked on both sides by gods with exquisitely adorned umbrellas to protect him from the elements. They honoured him with respect and devotion.
Lord Buddha descended via the summit of Mount Meru. He then made his way down to the Udumbara tree outside the city of Sankasya (modern-day Uttar Pradesh), a sacred Buddhist location. The event is one of the eight great deeds of the Buddha.
To commemorate the significance of Buddha's appreciation for his mother's benevolence, Bhutanese celebrate Mother's Day on the Descending Day of Lord Buddha.
How do the Bhutanese celebrate the Descending Day of Lord Buddha
On the Descending Day of Lord Buddha, the Bhutanese make a pilgrimage to monasteries to offer prayers and offerings to Lord Buddha.
They believe that on this day, all positive and negative actions are multiplied by 10 million times.
The festival lasts for seven days, the first of which is a public holiday.
Among the things the Bhutanese might do on the day to gain merits are:
- Light a candle or butter lamp
- Burn incense
- Attend local teachings at a Buddhist temple
- Keep all eight precepts for 24 hours like a monk or nun
- Donate to charity, especially in support of Buddhist Sangha of Monks, Nuns, and Lay teachers
- Donate to the construction of a stupa or temple
- Circumambulate a stupa and chant mantras
- Take formal refuge in the Three Jewels
- Offer extra offerings if doing so at home; fulfil all practice commitments
Buddha Dordenma, Thimphu
Buddha Dordenma aka Buddha Point is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bhutan. You can find the largest sitting Buddha in the country at 51.5m tall. The giant statue atop a gilded meditation hall is made of solid bronze and houses 125,000 smaller. From Buddha Point, you can get a panoramic of the beautiful Thimphu valley.
Find out what are the other attractions in Thimphu, Bhutan.