Magh Purnima also known as Mai Ko Sum Phai festival among the Tai Buddhists is a full moon day which falls in the third month of 'Nuen Saam' according to the Tai Calendar. Magh Purnima holds special significance for all the followers of Buddhism as it is believed that Gautama Buddha pronounced his impending death on this day. This festival is celebrated with great solemnity paying homage to the momentous events of the last years of the Buddha's life. It is said that during the days of illness of the Buddha when he was eighty years of age, the Licchawi people of Vaishali had looked after him with great care. They offered the Buddha with well prepared pap food which was a mixture of rice, sesame seeds, yarn, leafy vegetables, nuts and condiments. The Tai people call this food as 'Khao Yaku'. Moreover, this occasion is also celebrated to mark the end of the winter season and the beginning of the summer of the lunar year.
The Tai Buddhists in North East India as well as the Singpho community celebrate the 'Mai Ko Sum Phai' by erecting three bamboo poles at a distance of about three feet from each other forming a triangular shape. The height is about forty to fifty feet from the ground level. The three bamboo poles are actualy erected to support the dry woods which are piled up one above the other in a systematic way. These bamboos and dry woods which are collected by the village youths from the forest before the commencement of the festival. The collected woods are cut into equal sizes and lengths for East piling within the bamboo poles upto the height of the three bamboos. The heads of the three bamboos are tightly bound together to become the shape of a pagoda. It is an occasion of joy and merry making for the youths who are engaged in collecting and cutting the drywoods and bamboos. In the early morning of the festival day, the conical structure is lit with some religious performances from the top. From the ground, a rocket is fired at the top to light the same. The 'Chow Siri' gives blessings to all and cities 'Mankla Sutta' in Pali language. They beat drums, cymbals, gongs, sing and dance when the structure is kept on burning. After this morning function, the next function is characterised by a grand community feast. The main dish of the feast is consisted of cooked pap food. The Tai people call it 'Khao Yaku'. This dish is a mixture of rice, sesame seeds, yarns, leafy vegetables, nuts - the same kind of dish which the Licchawi people of Vaishali had offered to Buddha during the days of his illness. The people Tai community remember Him with due (Khao Yaku) before his statue. After this , Bhikkhus (Chowmun) are also offered the pap food. The offering of pap food before the Buddha's statue and also Bhikkhus, they believe, is a pius act to gain merit. The following day of the festival id considered as no working day. On this following day, they perform the ritual of Uposatha and observe the Pancha Silas.
Information collected by: C.K Tunkhang.
1. Dr. Pushpadha Gogoi, Tai of North East India, 1996.
2. Chau Khouk Manpoong, Buddhism as it is practiced by the Khamptis and Singphos of Chongkham Namsai Area, Buddha Mahotsava Organising Committee, 2006).
Photo description: Mai Ko Sum Phai celebration in 2012, at Borkhamti village (Khamti Loung), Lakhimpur Assam.
Photographer: C.P Namchoom.

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