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|Official name||Vesākha, Buddha Purnima, Buddha Jayanti, Vaisakha, Vesak|
|Also called||Buddha's Birthday or Buddha Day|
|Observed by||All Buddhists sects|
|Significance||The birth, enlightenment and passing away of Buddha|
|Observances||Meditation, Observing the eight precepts, partaking of vegetarian food, giving to charity, "bathing" the Buddha|
|Date||Full moon of the month of Vesākha, usually in May|
|Related to||Buddha's Birthday|
Vesākha (Pali;Sanskrit: Vaiśākha, Sinhala: වෙසක් පෝය, Devanagari: वैशाख, Nepali: बुद्ध पुर्णिमा, बुद्ध जयन्ति, Bengali: বুদ্ধ পূর্ণিমা or ভেসাক, Thai: วิสาขบูชา), Wesak or Vesak also known as Buddha Purnima is a holy day observed traditionally by Buddhists in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and the South East Asian countries of Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Sometimes informally called "Buddha's Birthday", it actually commemorates the birth, enlightenment (nirvāna), and death (Parinirvāna) of Gautama Buddha.
The exact date of Vesākha varies according to the various lunar calendars used in different traditions. In Theravada countries following the Buddhist calendar, it falls on a full moon Uposatha day, typically in the 5th or 6th lunar month. Vesākha Day in China and Korea is on the eighth of the fourth month in the Chinese lunar calendar. The date varies from year to year in the Western Gregorian calendar, but usually falls in April or May. In leap years Vesākha is celebrated in June.
The name of the observance is derived from the Pali term vesākha or Sanskrit vaiśākha, which is the name of the lunar month falling in April–May (see Vaisakha). In Mahayana Buddhist traditions, the holiday is known by its Sanskrit name (Vaiśākha) and derived variants of it. Local renditions of the name vary by language, including:
- Nepali: Buddha Purnima (बुद्ध पुर्णिमा), Budhha Jayanti (बुद्ध जयन्ति)
- Bengali: Buddho Purnima (বুদ্ধ পূর্ণিমা), Buddho Joyonti (বুদ্ধ জয়ন্তী) or Bhesak (ভেসাক)
- Sinhala: Vesak (වෙසක්) Full Moon Poya Day
- Burmese: Kason Full Moon Day
- Chinese: Fó Dàn (佛誕), Yù Fó Jié (浴佛節), Wèi Sāi Jié (衛塞節) or Fāt Dàahn
- Filipino: Araw Ni Buddha
- Indonesian: Hari Waisak
- Japanese: Hanamatsuri (花祭)
- Khmer: Visak Puja (or Visak Bochea) (វិសាខបូជា)
- Korean: Seokka Tanshin-il (석가 탄신일, 釋迦誕身日)
- Laotian: Vixakha Bouxa (ວິສາຂບູຊາ)
- Malaysian: Hari Wesak
- Tibetan: Saga Dawa (*ས་ག་ཟླ་བ། )
- Thai: Wisakha Bucha (วิสาขบูชา)
- Vietnamese: Phật Đản
The decision to agree to celebrate Vesākha as the Buddha’s birthday was formalized at the first conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists held in Sri Lanka in 1950, although festivals at this time in the Buddhist world are a centuries-old tradition. The resolution that was adopted at the World Conference reads as follows:
|“||That this Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, while recording its appreciation of the gracious act of His Majesty, the Maharaja of Nepal in making the full-moon day of Vesak a Public Holiday in Nepal, earnestly requests the Heads of Governments of all countries in which large or small number of Buddhists are to be found, to take steps to make the full-moon day in the month of May a Public Holiday in honour of the Buddha, who is universally acclaimed as one of the greatest benefactors of Humanity.||”|
On Vesākha Day, Buddhists all over the world commemorate events of significance to Buddhists of all traditions: The birth, enlightenment and the passing away of Gautama Buddha. As Buddhism spread from India it was assimilated into many foreign cultures, and consequently Vesākha is celebrated in many different ways all over the world.
In 1999, the United Nations resolved to internationally observe the day of Vesak at its headquarters and offices.
The celebration of Vesākha
May 2007 had two full moon days, the 1st and the 31st. Some countries (including Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Malaysia) celebrated Vesākha on the 1st, while others (Thailand, Singapore) celebrated the holiday on the 31st due to different local lunar observance. This difference also manifests in the observance of other Buddhist holidays, which are traditionally observed at the local full moon.
Likewise, in 2012, Vesak or the birth anniversary of the Buddha was observed on 28 April in Hong Kong and Taiwan, on 5 May in Sri Lanka, on 6 May in India, on 28 May in South Korea and on 4 June in Thailand. (In 1999 the Taiwanese government set Buddha's birthday as the second Sunday of May, the same date as Mother's Day.)
On Vesākha day, devout Buddhists and followers alike are expected and requested to assemble in their various temples before dawn for the ceremonial, and honorable, hoisting of the Buddhist flag and the singing of hymns in praise of the holy triple gem: The Buddha, The Dharma (his teachings), and The Sangha (his disciples). Devotees may bring simple offerings of flowers, candles and joss-sticks to lay at the feet of their teacher. These symbolic offerings are to remind followers that just as the beautiful flowers would wither away after a short while and the candles and joss-sticks would soon burn out, so too is life subject to decay and destruction. Devotees are enjoined to make a special effort to refrain from killing of any kind. They are encouraged to partake of vegetarian food for the day. In some countries, notably Sri Lanka, two days are set aside for the celebration of Vesākha and all liquor shops and slaughter houses are closed by government decree during the two days. Also birds, insects and animals are released by the thousands in what is known as a 'symbolic act of liberation'; of giving freedom to those who are in captivity, imprisoned, or tortured against their will. Some devout Buddhists will wear a simple white dress and spend the whole day in temples with renewed determination to observe the eight Precepts.
Devout Buddhists undertake to lead a noble life according to the teaching by making daily affirmations to observe the Five Precepts. However, on special days, notably new moon and full moon days, they observe the eight Precepts to train themselves to practice morality, simplicity and humility.
Some temples also display a small statue of the Buddha in front of the altar in a small basin filled with water and decorated with flowers, allowing devotees to pour water over the statue; it is symbolic of the cleansing of a practitioner's bad karma, and to reenact the events following the Buddha's birth, when devas and spirits made heavenly offerings to him.
Devotees are expected to listen to talks given by monks. On this day monks will recite verses uttered by the Buddha twenty-five centuries ago, to invoke peace and happiness for the government and the people. Buddhists are reminded to live in harmony with people of other faiths and to respect the beliefs of other people as the Buddha taught.
Bringing happiness to others
Celebrating Vesākha also means making special efforts to bring happiness to the unfortunate like the aged, the handicapped and the sick. To this day, Buddhists will distribute gifts in cash and kind to various charitable homes throughout the country. Vesākha is also a time for great joy and happiness, expressed not by pandering to one’s appetites but by concentrating on useful activities such as decorating and illuminating temples, painting and creating exquisite scenes from the life of the Buddha for public dissemination. Devout Buddhists also vie with one another to provide refreshments and vegetarian food to followers who visit the temple to pay homage to the Enlightened One.
Paying homage to the Buddha
Tradition ascribes to the Buddha himself instruction on how to pay him homage. Just before he died, he saw his faithful attendant Ananda, weeping. The Buddha advised him not to weep, but to understand the universal law that all compounded things (including even his own body) must disintegrate. He advised everyone not to cry over the disintegration of the physical body but to regard his teachings (The Dhamma) as their teacher from then on, because only the Dhamma truth is eternal and not subject to the law of change. He also stressed that the way to pay homage to him was not merely by offering flowers, incense, and lights, but by truly and sincerely striving to follow his teachings. This is how Buddhists are expected to celebrate Vesak: to use the opportunity to reiterate their determination to lead noble lives, to develop their minds, to practise loving-kindness and to bring peace and harmony to humanity.
Dates of observance
|Year in AD||Thailand||Singapore||Laos||Myanmar||Sri Lanka||Cambodia||Indonesia||Nepal & India||China||Malaysia|
|2001||7 May 2544BE||7 May||6 May 2545thBE||7 May 2545thBE||7 May 2545thBE||-||30 May||7 May|
|2002||26 May 2545BE||27 May||26 May 2546thBE||26 May 2546thBE||26 April 2546thBE||-||19 May||26 May|
|2003||15 May 2546BE||15 May||15 May 2547thBE||15 May 2547thBE||15 May 2547thBE||-||8 May||15 May|
|2004||2 Jun 2547BE||2 Jun||3 May 2548thBE||4 May 2548thBE||3 May 2548thBE||-||3 May||26 May||2 Jun|
|2005||22 May 2548BE||23 May||22 May 2549thBE||23 May 2549thBE||22 May 2549thBE||-||23 May||15 May||22 May|
|2006||12 May 2549BE||12 May||11 May 2550thBE||12 May 2550thBE||12 May 2550thBE||-||13 May||5 May||12 May|
|2007||31 May 2550BE||31 May||31 May 2550BE||30 April 2551thBE||1 May 2551thBE||1 May 2551thBE||1 Jun 2551thBE||2 May||24 May||31 May|
|2008||19 May 2551BE||19 May||18 May 2551BE||19 May 2552thBE||19 May 2552thBE||19 May 2552thBE||20 May 2552thBE||20 May||12 May||19 May|
|2009||8 May 2552BE||9 May||8 May 2552BE||8 May 2553thBE||8 May 2553thBE||8 May 2553thBE||9 May 2553thBE||8 May||2 May||9 May|
|2010||28 May 2553BE||28 May||28 May 2553BE||27 April 2554thBE||27 May 2554thBE||28 April 2554thBE||28 May 2554thBE||27 May||21 May||28 May|
|2011||17 May 2554BE||17 May||17 May 2554BE||17 May 2555thBE||17 May 2555thBE||17 May 2555thBE||17 May 2555thBE||17 May||10 May||17 May|
|2012||4 Jun 2555BE||5 May||5 May 2555BE||5 May 2556thBE||5 May 2556thBE||5 May 2556thBE||6 May 2556thBE||6 May||28 April||5 May|
|2013||24 May 2556BE||24 May||24 May||24 May 2557BE||24 May||25 May 2557 BE||25 May||17 May||24 May|
|2014||13 May 2557BE||15 May 2558 BE||14 May||13 May|
|2015||1 Jun 2558BE||1 Jun|
|2016||20 May 2559BE||21 May|
|2017||10 May 2560BE||10 May|
In Japan, Vesākha or hanamatsuri (花祭) is also known as: Kanbutsu-e (灌仏会), Goutan-e (降誕会), Busshou-e (仏生会), Yokubutsu-e (浴仏会), Ryuge-e (龍華会), Hana-eshiki (花会式). It is not a public holiday. It is based on a legend that a dragon appeared in the sky on the Buddha's birthday and poured soma over him.
It used to be celebrated on the 8th day of the fourth month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar, based on one of the legends that proclaims the day as Buddha's birthday. At present, the celebration is observed on 8 April of the Solar Calendar since the Meiji government adopted the western solar calendar as the official calendar. Since the 8th day of the fourth month in the lunar calendar commonly falls in May of the current solar calendar, it is now celebrated about a month earlier.
In Japan, Shinbutsu shugo is common so Buddhist temples celebrate Buddha's birthday by pouring ama cha, a sweet tea made of Hydrangea on statues. In Buddhist temples, monasteries and nunneries, more involved ceremonies are conducted for practising Buddhists, priests, monks and nuns.
Vesak In Nepal
Vesak, commonly known in Nepal as "Buddha Jayanti" is widely celebrated all across the country, predominantly, Lumbini – the birthplace of Buddha, and Swayambhu – the holy temple for Buddhists, also known as "the Monkey Temple". The main door of Swayambhu is opened only on this very day, therefore, people from all over Kathmandu valley are stimulated by the event. Thousands of pilgrims from various parts of the world come together to celebrate Buddha's birthday at his birthplace, Lumbini. In Nepal, Buddha is worshipped by all religious groups, therefore "Buddha Jayanti" is marked by a public holiday. People donate foods and clothes to the needy and also provide financial aid to monasteries and schools where Buddhism is taught and practised.
Vesak in Sri Lanka
Vesak is celebrated as a religious and a cultural festival in Sri Lanka on the full moon of the lunar month of Vesak (usually in the Gregorian month of May), for about one week. During this week, the selling of alcohol and fresh meat is usually prohibited, with abattoirs also being closed. Celebrations include religious and alms-giving activities. Electrically lit pandols called toranas are erected in locations mainly in Colombo, Kandy, Galle and elsewhere, most sponsored by donors, religious societies and welfare groups. Each pandol illustrates a story from the 550 Jataka Katha or the 550 Past Life Stories of the Buddha. In addition, colourful lanterns called Vesak koodu are hung along streets and in front of homes. They signify the light of the Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha. Food stalls set up by Buddhist devotees called dansälas provide free food and drinks to passersby. Groups of people from community organisations, businesses and government departments sing bhakti gee (Buddhist devotional songs). Colombo experiences a massive influx of people from all parts of the country during this week.
In 1963, the South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, a Catholic, and the younger brother of Archbishop Ngo Dinh Thuc banned the flying of the Buddhist flag. This led to a demonstration and flag-waving in defiance of the ban. Diem's forces opened fire on the Buddhist crowd, killing nine, sparking the Buddhist crisis, a period of civil disobedience against religious discrimination.
Wesak In Malaysia
Celebrated by Buddhists to mark three momentous events in Buddha's life – his birth, enlightenment, and his departure from the human world, the Wesak celebration in Malaysia begins at dawn when devotees gather at Buddhist temples nationwide to meditate on the Eight Precepts. Donations - giving food to the needy and offerings of incense and joss sticks - and prayers are carried out. The sutras are chanted in unison by monks in saffron robes. The celebration is highlighted by a candle procession. Wesak Day in Malaysia is a national public holiday.
Waisak In Indonesia
This significant and traditional holy day is observed throughout Indonesia where it is known as Waisak Day. At Borobudur, thousands of Buddhist monks will join together to repeat mantras and meditate as they circuit the temple in a ritual called "Pradaksina". This is a form of tribute to the temple. Monks celebrate the special day by bottling holy water (which symbolises humility) and transporting flames (which symbolize light and enlightenment) from location to location. The monks also took part in the "Pindapata" ritual, where they received charity from the people of Indonesia.
- Fowler, Jeaneane D. (1997). World Religions: it is celebrated to mark the birth, enlightenment and the passing away of the Lord Buddha. An Introduction for Students. Sussex Academic Press. ISBN 1-898723-48-6.
- "Visakha Puja". Accesstoinsight.org. Retrieved 20 March 2012.
- "Vesākha". The Pali Text Society's Pali-English Dictionary. Retrieved 7 February 2012.
- "RESOLUTION ADOPTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY: 54/115. International recognition of the Day of Vesak at United Nations Headquarters and other United Nations offices". United Nations. Retrieved 6 February 2012.
- Camaron Kao (14 May 2012), "Thousands of believers mark Buddha's birthday", China Post
- Ko Shu-Ling (9 May 2011), "Sakyamuni Buddha birthday celebrated", Taipei Times, "The legislature approved a proposal in 1999 to designate the birthday of Sakyamuni Buddha — which falls on the eighth day of the fourth month of the lunar calendar — a national holiday and to celebrate the special occasion concurrently with International Mother’s Day, which is celebrated on the second Sunday of May."
- "International VisakhaBuja Date Collection". เมื่อนานาประเทศ ต่างหันหลังให้ (วันวิสาขบูชา) ไทย. Retrieved 2 February 2012.
- Vesak Festival in Sri Lanka
- Niên biểu lịch sử Phật giáo Việt Nam
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