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 is in accordance with 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 2021 will be celebrated on Wednesday, the 26th of May which is the Buddha Purnima date for this year.
History of the Festival
Celebrated for many centuries, Buddhist followers believe that in the year 623 BC, The Buddha was born as a prince in a storied royal family. It was also on this day, according to legend, that he passed away at the ripe old age of 80. Although the exact dates have remained a mystery, believers all across the world 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 legend says that all three happened on the same date, the exact historical proof hasn’t been found yet. The story which is celebrated 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 inside him 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 festival of Buddha Purnima, everyone who’s celebrating must observe a few rules such as no intake of meat, wear white clothes that symbolize peace, and show kindness to the poor and unfortunate. You will also find followers who offer prayers to Lord Buddha and all statues would be decorated with fresh flowers and offerings. Visitors to temples will pour water over the statues and donate money, food, and clothing to the poor. In some parts of 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 one of the things offered to The Buddha on his travels and is considered to be 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 testimony to The Buddha’s teachings which are 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 in an official manner 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 festival of Buddha Purnima is celebrated across the world. Here are some places where followers conduct ceremonies:
- South-East Asian countries like Mongolia celebrates 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 2021 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 huge thing in Japan and has been so since the Meiji Restoration in 1873. You will find that Buddha Jayanti is celebrated in several temples, although concentrated in the Okinawa prefecture.
- Known as Buddho Purnima, Bangladesh holds large fairs around viharas and temples. You will find vendors selling a wide variety of Bengali cuisine (vegetarian) outside these temples.
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