Now unless you live in a mainly Buddhist country like Sri Lanka or are a devout follower of Buddhism, you’re probably wondering “what is she on about now?” when I happily wish you and your family a happy and peaceful vesak. Today is Vesak Poya (full moon) Day. It is probably the most important festival of the year in the Buddhist calendar. Buddhists commemorate the three most important events that took place in the life of Lord Buddha on this Vesak Poya Day (always the first full moon in the month of May). First comes the birth of Siddhartha Gautama which took place under the arbour of Sat trees in in Lumbini Park on the Nepalese border where Queen Mahamaya gave birth to him. The second event was Siddharta Gautama’s supreme enlightenment as the Buddha, under the Bodhi tree in Gaya. The third event was Lord Buddha’s Parinibbana (passing away) over 2500 years ago at Kusinagar.
Apart from Sri Lanka, many Asian countries including India, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia and Nepal also celebrate Vesak. In Sri Lanka many religious activities are organised during this period such as Sil campaigns (whole day worship & prayer at temples with devotees all dressed in white), Bodhi Poojas (giving of alms; flowers, fruit, food for the Buddha), Dansalas (free gifts of food, coffee, tea and refreshments to people, in particular travellers on their way to worship at temples), Vesak devotional songs (Bakthi Gee), pandols (thoran) and lanterns . Lanterns are hung up in every home bringing the smallest villages to life and stunning larger displays can be seen in the major cities.
On this holy day the Dana (food) plays an important role. Every devotee gives alms. This symbolises sharing the joy and peace with people. Richer members of the community will usually donate food or money to poorer families and societies or just groups of friends will have collected money from the community in order to organise a local dansal (see above). During the Vesak Festival week, the selling of alcohol and meat is usually forbidden and most shops are closed for at least two days.