Celebrating Buddha Purnima

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Celebrating Buddha Purnima

Significance of Buddha Purnima or Vesak

Buddhists from all over the world are getting ready to celebrate Buddha Purnima or Vaishakh Purnima or Vesak, which falls on 30 April this year. It is a festival held worldwide to commemorate the birth and enlightenment (prakash) of Lord Buddha; every year it is celebrated on the purnima (full moon) of the Vaishakh month of the Buddhist and Hindu calendars.

In search of moksha

Gautam Buddha was born as Siddhartha Gautam in Lumbini (now in modern-day Nepal) and raised in Kapilvastu, a town in the region of modern Nepal-India border around the year 563 B.C. He was raised in a sheltered and secluded life of the royal courts and was oblivious to realities of the outside world. On one of his journeys with his charioteer, he saw an ailing man, an old man, and a corpse, all of which left him deeply disturbed. Upon asking, his charioteer replied that such was the fate of every man, and no amount of material comforts could help one avoid the miseries of life and old age. On seeing this, Prince Siddhartha decided to leave all his royal comforts behind and go out in search of moksha. He headed towards the forest to lead the life of an ascetic. On achieving the great prakash or enlightenment, he earned the name Gautama Buddha (the one who is enlightened), after which he imparted his knowledge to several followers.

A spiritual journey

On a spiritual note, it is said that there is a little Buddha in everyone, and that Buddha is in the form of Siddhartha – a wandering, lost man. The prince had everything, tried everything but he could not find the answer. Despite that, he kept his spirit of enquiry alive. Siddhartha saw sorrow and understood that the world is full of sorrow, but he did not know the way. Modern-day Buddhist teachers suggest that everybody has a little Buddha inside of them, which only needs to be awakened. It is said that Siddhartha tried technique after technique, but to no avail, perhaps because his mind was outward all the time. When he got tired of everything and dropped everything, that was the moment his mind turned inwards, and he found enlightenment.

Bathing of the Buddha in some parts of Asia as a part of celebrations

Celebration in Sarnath, India, and other parts of the world

In India, Buddha Purnima is celebrated by paying a visit to common Viharas to hear Buddhist sutras. It is celebrated widely in Sarnath (Varanasi), where Gautam Buddha gave his first sermon. Besides Sarnath, the Buddha Purnima is also celebrated with religious fervour at Gaya and Kushinagar. Devotees from all over the world attend the celebrations in these cities. The celebrations at Sarnath attract large Buddhist crowds as they offer prayers at different Buddhist temples in Sarnath on this day. Prayers, sermons, and recitation of Buddhist scriptures are other important religious activities performed by them. Monks and devotees meditate and worship to the statue of Gautam Buddha. The Buddhist devotees also offer fruits, flowers, and candles to statues of Lord Buddha.

Devotees celebrate by lighting candles

The auspicious day is celebrated with great fervour in other parts of the world like Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Nepal, Korea, Indonesia, Laos, and Malaysia, where devotees gather to remember the teachings of Buddha on compassion and non-violence. As the religion is spread throughout Asia, it is influenced by local customs of each country and, hence, has created a wide array of festivities. In Japan, people make replicas of shrines with spring flowers and place Buddha idols on them. Temples hold special events to remember the lord. People pour ‘ama-cha’ – a beverage prepared using several hydrangeas – on Buddha idols decorated with flowers. South Korea celebrates this day as a national holiday. The day is celebrated on the eighth day of the forth month in the Korean lunar calendar and is known as ‘Seokga tansinil’ meaning ‘Buddha’s birthday’. Throughout the holy month, temples are covered with lotus lanterns and free meals and beverages are provided on the auspicious day. In Nepal, the day is commemorated by by wearing white dress and eating only vegetarian food.

Foods to celebrate Buddha Purnima

Since one of the core tenets of Buddhism is to abstain from any kind of killing, this day is celebrated by devotees worldwide by refraining from any kind of killing or eating non-vegetarian food. In some parts of Sri Lanka apparently, meat shops remain shut on this day. In some countries, a ritualistic practice of releasing birds, insects, and animals as a symbolic act of liberation is also seen on Buddha Purnima. Kheer is also widely prepared on this day. Devotees abstain from onion and garlic on this day. In Nepal, kheer, sweet rice porridge, has a special significance on the day.

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