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Buddha Jayanti (Vesak)

Baisakh Purnima (the Full moon day in May) is one of the greatest festivals in Buddhist Religious Calendar. The day is celebrated to commemorate the three major events in Buddha’s life – His birth (in Lumbini, Nepal in 623 BC); his enlightenment (Buddhatto) at the age of 35 years (in Buddha Gaya, India) and his passing away (Maha parinirvana) at the age of 80 years (in Kusinagar, India.)

It is believed that all these three events took place on the Full Moon Day of the month of May. This day is known by different names in different countries e.g. Swanyapunhi (full moon day of flower) in Nepal Bhasa, Buddha Jayanti in Nepali, Buddha Purnima or Baisakha Purima in India, Vesak in Sri Lanka, Puspa Purnima in Bangladesh, Visakha Bucha Day in Thailand, Kason Full moon Day in Burma (Myanmar), etc.

The international community at the United Nations celebrate it as the Vesak Day (Buddha Day) in accordance with the United Nations General Assembly Resolution adopted in 1999, which provided international recognition at the United Nations for the Vesak Day. All Buddhist followers of United Nations are entitled to take a day’s leave on this day. Due to such historical significance Buddhists all over the world celebrate this day with great devotion, practising generosity, observing higher moral precepts, concentrating on meditation, visiting monasteries and listening to sermons from venerable monks and nuns.

On this day Buddhist show special kindness to animals e.g. they buy caged birds and set them free, or pay butchers to free animals that would otherwise be slaughtered for human consumption. Buddhists all over the world refrain from eating meat on this day. It is a tradition in Nepal to eat Kheer (Rice pudding) on this auspicious day and avoid eating meat or taking alcoholic drinks.

Buddhists everywhere celebrate Buddha Purnima but each nation also has its own special way of celebrating this day:

  • In Nepal devotees gather, most particularly, at the two great stupas- Swayambhunath and Bouddhnath. Thousands of devotees from Nepal and abroad also participate in worship at Lumbini, the birth place of Lord Buddha.
  • In Sri Lanka, homes are brightly illuminated.
  • In Japan, the holiday is celebrated exclusively on April 8th— a date the Japanese believes to be Buddha's birthday. They make replicas of shrines with spring flowers, placing small Buddha idols on them.
  • In Burma, Buddhists water and take special care of Bodhi trees. Buddha attained enlightenment meditating under a Bodhi tree.

There is a special significance to this day for the Nepalese people, whether Buddhist or otherwise, for this unique teacher of the world was born at Lumbini in Nepal. The tradition to celebrate Buddha Jayanti was lost in Nepal for centuries. Mr. Jagatman Vaidya, who later became known as Dharmaditya Dharmacariya re-establish the tradition to celebrate Baisakh day, Buddha Jayanti or Swanyapunhi in modern Nepal. This was celebrated for the first time in 1926 in the present-day Nepal after a long gap and at the same time animal sacrifice at Lumbini was stopped from this year. Prime minister Mohan Shamasher J. Rana declared Buddha Purnima a public holiday for Buddhist government civil servants in 1946 at the request of Venerable Narada of Sri Lanka. In 1952 His Majesty King Tribhuvan declared Baisakh Purnima or Buddha Jayanti day as a public holiday throughout the kingdom. In 1956 King Mahendra banned killing of animals on this auspicious day throughout the country. Now a day, this day is celebrated throughout the country and people celebrate it with great joy and happiness.

Buddhists all over the world celebrate this day not as Buddha’s birthday or for the sake of celebrating. Buddhists celebrate this day to remember his virtues. It was him who by virtue and by example showed us the path to liberation which can be achieved by any human beings by being mindful and understanding his Teachings. On this day, people express their gratitude and appreciation for his profound teachings. The Buddha once said, “He who sees the dhamma sees me, he who sees me sees Dhamma”. Therefore, being virtuous and living according to the teachings of the Buddha is far more important than normal material offerings. The Buddha himself appreciated this when he said – Sort out your priorities. “Sabba papassa akaranam, kusalassa upasampada, sacitta pariyodapanam, etam buddhana sasanam”. “Shun evil, cherish skilful actions, cultivate your own mind, this is the message of the Buddha”. This is the highest tribute one can make to the unique contribution the Buddha has made to mankind. This is why people celebrate Buddha Jayanti - to pay an honest grateful tribute to him.

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