Celebrating Buddha Purnima
According to legend, the festival of Buddha Purnima marks the birth, enlightenment, and death of Gautama Buddha and is celebrated across South-East Asia and South Asia. You will find a majority of Buddhists and some Hindus celebrating it across these geographies. It is also known as Buddha Day, Buddha Jayanti, and Vesak in some places, where it’s observed during the first full moon in May. This follows the lunar calendar; however, due to the various diversities in Buddhist culture, Vesak is celebrated on a different date. People celebrating the festival mostly wear white and don’t consume any non-vegetarian food.
Buddha Purnima 2023 will be celebrated on Wednesday, the 5th of May, which is the Buddha Purnima date for this year.
History of the Buddha Purnima
Celebrated for many centuries, Buddhist followers believe that in 623 BC, The Buddha was born as a prince in a storied royal family. According to legend, it was also on this day that he passed away at the ripe old age of 80. Although the exact dates have remained a mystery, believers worldwide celebrate his life and death with reverence and kindness.
The festival is a celebration of the three most important stages of life. According to Buddhists, they are Birth, Enlightenment, and Death. Although the legend says that all three happened on the same date, the exact historical proof hasn’t been found. The famous story is that Prince Siddhartha Gautama was out riding his chariot when he saw an old man, a diseased person, and a corpse. This evoked a lot of pent-up emotion, and he started meditating on the meaning of life. It was around this time that followers say he attained enlightenment or moksha. The birth story is important in Buddhism as The Buddha was supposed to have been born in Lumbini (in modern-day Nepal) and attained moksha under a Bodhi Tree at Bodhgaya in Bihar.
During the Buddha Purnima festival, everyone celebrating must observe a few rules, such as no meat intake, wearing white clothes that symbolize peace, and showing kindness to the poor and unfortunate. You will also find followers who pray to Lord Buddha, and all statues will be decorated with fresh flowers and offerings. In addition, temple visitors will pour water over the figures and donate money, food, and clothing to the poor. In some South-East Asia and China, the celebrations are also marked by releasing a caged bird or animal.
Other ways that people celebrate would be by distributing Kheer (rice milk porridge) amongst loved ones and the poor. According to legend, it was offered to The Buddha on his travels and is considered a holy sweet on this day of celebrations.
The Dharmachakra and formalization
Often used as a symbol during Buddha Purnima, the Dharmachakra is a wooden wheel with eight spokes. Each of these spokes stands as testimony to The Buddha’s teachings which are the Right View, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Resolve, and Right Samadhi. Although the celebrations have been happening for centuries, it was only in May 1960 that The World Fellowship of Buddhists formalized the final decision to commemorate his journey through life. The first venue Buddha Purnima was celebrated officially was Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Places around the world where Buddha Purnima is celebrated
Even though Lord Buddha was born in Nepal and attained enlightenment in India, the Buddha Purnima festival is celebrated worldwide. Here are some places where followers conduct ceremonies:
- South-East Asian countries like Mongolia celebrate the festival on the full moon day of the Vaisakha month. It is also known as Buddha Jayanti in these areas.
- In some East Asian countries, the festival is celebrated on the 8th day of the 4th month in the lunar calendar, according to the Chinese. It is an official holiday in Hong Kong, South Korea, and Macau. Buddha Purnima 2023 is slated to be celebrated in May in these countries, although the dates might change according to the full moon.
- Believe it or not, Buddha Jayanti is a massive thing in Japan and has been so since the Meiji Restoration in 1873. Therefore, you will find that Buddha Jayanti is celebrated in several temples, concentrated in the Okinawa prefecture.
- Known as Buddho Purnima, Bangladesh holds large fairs around viharas and temples. In addition, you will find vendors selling a wide variety of Bengali cuisine (vegetarian) outside these temples.
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