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Asalha is the eighth lunar month of the old Indian calendar which usually falls in July.
The main historical event this festival commemorates is the Buddha delivering his first discourse.
The Buddha’s enlightenment took place on the full moon of Vesakha – the sixth month. He was reluctant to teach but finally decided to rejoin the five friends he had previously spent several years traveling the Ganges Plain with. He attained enlightenment in Gaya and his friends were at that time in Baranasi – a distance of some 150 miles. This would have been quite a journey, allowing that there were few roads and a very sparce population. By simple mathematics we can see that the trip from Gaya to Baranasi took about two months.
The first discourse is of great significance. Not only was it the first structured teaching given by the Buddha after his enlightenment but it is generally agreed as containing the essence of all subsequent teachings. This occasion was effectively the establishment of Buddhism as a religion. A thorough study of this discourse is a must as it puts many of the later teachings into perspective.