It's Magha Puja. What are we celebrating?

Hey folks!

Today, here at Wat Dhammayanaram, we’re celebrating Magha Puja.

According to Wikipedia, 1250 arahant disciples of the Buddha came to the Bamboo Grove in Rajagaha. I was unable to find the story in the suttas, but I suspect it might be a story from the vinaya. Can anyone provide a reference?


It is from the commentary of MN 74 Dighanakha Sutta. It is said that after giving the discourse to Dighanakha which also caused Sariputta attained Arahantship, the Buddha after sunset descended from Gijjhakuta and went to Veluvana where the 1250 Arahant monks gathered with four factors (cāturaṅgasannipāta):

  1. The meeting happened in fullmoon of Magha
  2. The monks gathered naturally without first being invited.
  3. All the monks were Arahants with six higher knowledge (chalabhinna).
  4. All the monks were ordained with ehi-bhikkhu words by the Buddha himself.

At the meeting the Buddha delivered Ovada Patimokkha verses (found in Dhp 183-185, also in Mahapadana Sutta of DN).


An earlyish allusion to the gathering is in the Buddhavaṃsa’s chapter on Gotama Buddha:

ekosi sannipāto me, sāvakānaṃ mahesinaṃ,
aḍḍhateḷasasatānaṃ, bhikkhūnāsi samāgamo.

virocamāno vimalo, bhikkhusaṅghassa majjhago,
dadāmi patthitaṃ sabbaṃ, maṇīva sabbakāmado.

“I had only one assembly of disciples, great seers; it was a gathering of one thousand two hundred and fifty bhikkhus.

“Shining, stainless, in the midst of the bhikkhusaṅgha, like the jewel granting all desires, I gave everything that is aspired after.”
(Bv. 65)

In the Buddhavaṃsa’s account of Maṅgala Buddha it’s said that all of the monks in his samāgama were of the ehi bhikkhu type; this detail is later transferred by the commentaries to the samāgamas of all Buddhas. As far as I know the other details are wholly commentarial.


It has been alluded in DN 14 too

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Māgha Pūjā is the second most important Buddhist festival,[1] celebrated on the full moon day of the third lunar month[2] in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Sri Lanka and on the full moon day of Tabaung in Myanmar. It celebrates a gathering that was held between the Buddha and 1,250 of his first disciples, which, according to tradition, preceded the custom of periodic recitation of discipline by monks. On the day, Buddhists celebrate the creation of an ideal and exemplary community, which is why it is sometimes called Saṅgha Day, the Saṅgha referring to the Buddhist community, and for some Buddhist schools this is specifically the monastic community.[1] In Thailand, the Pāli term Māgha-pūraṇamī is also used for the celebration, meaning ‘to honor on the full moon of the third lunar month’.[7] Finally, some authors have also referred to the day as the Buddhist All Saints Day.[8] Wikipedia.

Its not really observed in Sri Lanka.

The Scarborough Mahavihara does a big one. They are an immigrant Sri Lankan community AFAIK. I wonder what made it catch on in diaspora?

I would suppose that it’s a Buddhist diaspora melting pot sort of thing. The Asian ethnic temples in the West are not entirely insular. I recall that in England in the 1980s (when I last lived there) the Sri Lankan, Thai and Burmese monks would invite each other to their temples on festival days and would hold the end-of-vassa pavāraṇā ceremony together.