May 19th this year marks Vesak, alternatively known as Buddha Jayanti or Buddha day:
The date of Vesak changes each year as it takes place at the time of the first full moon of the ancient lunar month of Vesakha, which usually falls in mid-May or early June. It is the celebration of Buddha’s birthday and, for some Buddhists, marks his enlightenment (when he discovered life’s meaning) and is the most important day on the Buddhist calendar.
The holiday is mentioned and is vastly celebrated by Buddhists worldwide. Amongst the countries officially celebrating it you can find Singapore, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and other South-East Asian countries.
Vesak is celebrated in different ways by Mahayana and Theravada Buddhists, yet both believe part of the celebrations – in the kind Buddha way – must include doing good deeds on this particular day and it is believed that doing these will multiply merit many times over. Good deeds can be taking part in chanting and meditation, reflecting on Buddhist teachings, bringing offerings to the temple or simply sharing food with others. Some families may decorate their homes with lanterns, others take part in processions and wear special white clothes to mark the occasion.
Singapore, which started officially celebrating Vesak in 1955, is THE perfect place to celebrate the holiday: optional places to visit during this day include Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery, which is Singapore’s largest temple offering tours of the monastery’s museum; or the well known Vesak Carnival which is run by the Buddhist Fellowship and has food stalls, games, music and blessings.
Alternatively, you can go from temple to temple and view the many varied celebrations hosted on this day as there will be activities running from dawn until dusk and well into the night. Do note that Vesak Day is a public holiday in Singapore, so many government buildings and banks will close but most restaurants and malls will remain open.
Colombo, Sri Lanka is another top destination to enjoy the celebrations in. The Vesak festival takes over the city and most of the island. Every home and every place of business hangs white paper lanterns that are lit up at night. Areas like Baudaloka Mawata and Biera Lake are specially decorated, and lanterns released to the sky create a breathtaking effect.
Vesak is officially a Buddhist holiday, but it is a day of kindness and care for others so you don’t have to be Buddhist to celebrate.
Happy Vesak Day and Happy Travels!