By Emily Tanaka
In the spring, Buddhists worldwide celebrate their most pious holiday: Vesak. Informally known as Buddha Day, Vesak marks the life, enlightenment and death of Siddhartha Gautama, or the Buddha. The celebration manifests in unique ways around the world, with each region having traditions deeply rooted in its relationship to the Buddha. It is an event worth seeing for yourself.
April 8, 2016
The Japanese focus on the teaching that the Buddha was born greeted by sweet rain and flower blossoms, in a celebration they call Hana Matsuri. One highlight is a parade of images of the infant Buddha and portable shrines, with cherry blossoms dripping from every surface. It is also traditional for a statue of the baby Buddha to be displayed and for celebrants to pour sweet tea on the statue’s head to symbolize the sweet rain that fell during his birth. The festivities are promoted as family events.
Seoul, South Korea
May 5-8, 2016
The Lotus Lantern Festival is centered around the lighting of lanterns to symbolize the transmission of the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha. The Jogyesa Temple houses the three-day celebration, which includes an exhibit of traditional lanterns, traditional music and dance, a lantern parade, a rain of flower petals, and activities such as making lanterns and trying traditional temple food. The goal of the Lotus Lantern Festival is to come together and promote happiness for years to come.
May 21, 2016
During a ritual called Pradakshina, monks dressed in their traditional saffron robes walk in a procession at night, when the moonlight washes over the bell-shaped temple statues. They carry offerings of orange flowers and candles while reciting holy chants, praying and meditating — performing the ritual with religious certainty. When the prayers have been completed, the pilgrims follow the procession and circle the temple three times. At the end of the ceremony, the pilgrims gather together and release thousands of Puja lanterns into the sky to symbolize a universal enlightenment.
Colombo, Sri Lanka
May 24-26, 2016
On the island of Sri Lanka, off the coast of India, the Vesak Festival is a big deal. The celebration is known as Buddha Rashmi Pooja, and much of it is centered on Beira Lake. Thousands of decorated lanterns litter the shores, some even floating in the water. Lights of all colors cover the trees and the small Sima Malaka Temple on the eastern shore of the lake. The lights and lanterns are coupled with events at the temple, promoting the improvement of knowledge among devoted Buddhists.
Vesak is a way for Buddhists to externalize inner enlightenment and joy, participating in a celebration of cultural and religious importance. It is a time to eradicate any hate festering in your soul and join together in a harmonious unit to spread a feeling of respect for the beginnings, ends and enlightenment found within.
About the Author
Emily Tanaka, a journalism student at Emerson College, aspires to be an international correspondent and photojournalist. She writes for her school’s newspaper and a newly developed student-run news show. Follow her @eminorthtanaka.
Photograph of Sri Lanka’s Gangaramaya Temple during Vesak (top) by SurangaSL/Shutterstock; photograph of Indonesia’s Borobudur Temple during Vesak by Pambudi Yoga Perdana/Shutterstock