Posted on 04/05/2021
Sri Lanka's grandest religious festival, Vesak is an annual celebration of the great three events (Themangula) of the Gauthama Buddha's life: the birth, enlightenment and passing away, and this is traditionally observed by all Buddhists across Sri Lanka as well as other Buddhist countries in the world. In Sri Lanka and some other Theravada countries, this holy day falls on the full moon of the lunar month of Vesak (in the month of May), but it varies from country to country according to various lunar calendars used by different traditions. Anyway, the Vesak celebrations continue for about a week.
The decision to agree to celebrate the Vesak as the Lord 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. On Vesak day, devout Buddhists and followers alike assemble in temples before dawn for the ceremonial, and honorable of the Buddhist flag and the chanting of verses in praise of the holy triple gem: The Buddha, the Dhamma(His teachings). Devotees bring simple offerings of flowers, candles and joss-sticks to lie at the feet of the Gautama Buddha. these symbolic offerings are to remind the 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 is life too subject to decay and destruction. In some countries, notably Sri Lanka, two days are set aside for the celebration of the Vesak, and all liquor shops and slaughter houses are closed required by the government decree during the two days. Devout Buddhists wear a simple white dress and spend the whole day in temples with renewed determination to observe the eight noble precepts taught by the Gautama Buddha.
Devout Buddhists undertake to lead a good life according to the teachings 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. Devotees listen to Dhamma talks preached by monks. Buddhists are reminded to live in harmony with people of other faiths also, respecting the beliefs of other people as the Gautama Buddha had taught.
Celebrating Vesak also means making special efforts to bring happiness to the unfortunate like the aged, the handicapped and the sick. On this day, Buddhists will distribute gifts and kind to various charitable homes throughout the country. Vesak is also a time for great 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 temples to pay homage to the Enlightened One. However, the ultimate goal of any Buddhist is essentially to attain the Nirvana (a state of perfect happiness in which there is no suffering or desire, and no sense of self). Therefor, any activity, any thought of self should be meant toward this ultimate goal.
Tradition ascribes to the Buddha himself instruction on how to pay him homage. Just before he passed away, he saw his faithful attendant Ananda, weeping. The Buddha advised him not to weep, but to understand the universal law that all compound 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.
Celebrations include various religious and alms-giving activities. Electrically lit Vesak Pandals called Toranas are erected in various locations mainly in Colombo, Kandy, Galle and elsewhere; most sponsored by donors, religious societies and welfare groups. Each Pandal illustrates a story from the 550 Jathaka 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, Dhamma and the Sangha. Food stalls set up by Buddhist devotees called Dansalas provide free food and drinks to passersby. Groups of people from various community organizations, businesses and government departments sing Bhakthi gee or Buddhist devotional songs. During the Vesak season, the whole island mainly Colombo turns to be a sparkling wonderland nicely decorated and lit every nook and corner with Vesak lanterns, Thoranas and so on. Among many Vesak festivals in Colombo, the Buddha Rashmi Vesak festival held by the Gangaramaya Temple is so colourful that it can attract tens of thousands of people of all faiths.