Buddha Purnima is a Buddhist holiday celebrated mainly in countries such as Indian, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Tibet, Cambodia and the USA! Buddha Purnima is also known as Buddha day and Vesak and is a public holiday in many countries. It isn't just the celebration of Buddha's birthday. It also celebrates his enlightenment and death. It celebrates the basic beliefs of Buddhism - karunaa (kindness) and ahimsa (non-violence). Buddhists perform meditation; observe the eight percepts of Buddhism, eat only vegetarian food and do charity.
History & Origin
Even though followers of Buddhism have been celebrating Buddhist festivals for centuries, the decision to celebrate Vesākha as Buddha's birthday was taken at the first conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists held in Sri Lanka in 1950. It took another 49 years for the United Nations to recognize the importance of Buddha Purnima. The UN announced only in the year 1999 that it would be celebrating Buddha Purnima at their offices and at their headquarters at New York City.
Dates of Observance
The reason why Buddha Purnima is also known as Vesak, is because it is celebrated in the "Baisakh" or the "Vaisakha" month. The festival is celebrated according to the Hindu and the Buddhist Calendar in Nepal. Buddha's birth place celebrates Buddha Purnima on the day of the full moon. The term "Purnima" refers to full moon in the Sanskrit Language. Usually, Buddha Purnima is celebrated in the month of May, on the day of the full moon. In countries like Indonesia, Laos and Thailand, Buddha Purnima is celebrated according to the Chinese calendar! Following the Chinese Lunar Calendar, these countries celebrate Buddha's birthday on the 14th or on the 15th day of the fourth month. On the other hand, in countries like Vietnam, China and Korea, Vesak is celebrated on the 8th day of the fourth month of the same Chinese calendar. The date varies from one country to another. In certain instances, particularly during a leap year, Buddha Purnima is even celebrated in the month of June!
Vesak Celebration Around the World
Known in some western countries as Wesak, Buddha Purnima is celebrated in different ways in different countries. As the day of the month (which alters according to the country) approaches, Buddhists all around the world start gearing up for their biggest celebration.
In Taiwan, Buddhists gather around a Buddha statue and pour water over it. This water is usually of a fragrant nature and the pouring signifies a new start. In Singapore, on the other hand, Buddha devotees celebrate Vesak in a totally unique way. They free birds that have been caged.
In India, Buddhist devotees usually dress in all white and spend their whole day in reading the "Buddhist Sutra". This is somewhat comparable to a service in a church. They avoid non-vegetarian food on this day and distribute Kheer or "rice pudding" amongst people. This rice pudding has its own story behind it. According to Buddhist legend, the Buddha himself was offered Kheer by Sujata, who was a very rich devotee. The bowl in which she had offered the Kheer is known as the "Golden Bowl"
Buddha Purnima and Lanterns
Lanterns are a big part of Buddha's birthday celebration. In Sri Lanka, people make use of colourful lanterns with electric displays while in South Korea, people light up lotus shaped lanterns! In Indonesia, lanterns are released into the sky after being lighted. This usually takes place after a visit to the Borobudur temple compounds. This compound consists of three temples built in the 9th century and it is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Some devotees also take to donate alms on this day, thus keeping the Buddhist learning of "ending suffering".
- Buddha Purnima is not a public holiday in Japan, although it is celebrated with great enthusiasm.
- The International Lotus Lantern Parade is held at Union Square Park, New York on the day of Buddha Purnima.
- Buddha Purnima doesn't just observe the birth of the Buddha, it also celebrates his death and his attainment of enlightenment (nirvana).
- Not just the Buddha, even his wife (Yashodhara), his first disciple (Channa) and even his horse (Kantaka) were born on this day!
- Lots of Buddhist devotees pray the Dharma wheel, a wheel with eight spikes, representing Buddha's teachings.