‘Vesak’ poya, the day of the full moon of the lunar month vēsakha, which usually falls in May, is of great significance for millions of Buddhists around the world. Vesak marks three important milestones of the life of Gautam Buddha; The birth of Prince Siddhartha, the enlightenment of the Ascetic Gautama and the passing away or Parinibbana of Buddha.
Marking the importance of these events, we, Sri Lankans commemorate Vesak with great enthusiasm. On the Vesak morning, the temples are swarmed with people who wish to engage in sil programs (sīla samādanaya) to observe 8 or 10 precepts. They dress in all-white clothing along with the ‘Uhuru saluwa’ that symbolizes the purity of one’s own self which helps to reflect the Great Dhamma.
On the other hand, the Vesak night is brightened up with beautiful decorations (Vesak Sarasili). The Buddha and Buddhism are often associated with the symbol of light as it signifies the wisdom of light and the hope of attaining the ultimate Nirvana. For these very reasons, Buddhists use light to pay homage to Buddha.
Every Buddhist house hangs Vesak bamboo lanterns attached with lights and candles. The streets are decorated with different colors of festival lights and flourished with numerous alms-giving stalls, most commonly known as dansal. Every town is garlanded with large structures lighted up with electric bulbs, Vesak pandols (thoran) depicting one of the 550 jathaka stories (stories of the Boddhisatva’s previous lives). The entirety of the country is lit, drawing thousands of crowds across towns and cities to view the beautiful Vesak sarasili. It is indeed a time of happiness, kindness, and joy.
Whilst enjoying the beauty of the streets we should not forget to contemplate the real purpose of every decoration. Each vesak lantern has significance to Buddha and Buddhism. Atapattama (an octagon-shaped vesak lantern) depicts the Eightfold Path (Aryaastangika margaya), whereas lotus-shaped lanterns (Nelum koodu) are another symbol depicting Buddha’s life. Making these is a family affair where grandparents, parents and children get together and craft the lanterns while strengthening their bonds. The end result is joyable but what’s more important is the journey of the Vesak lantern; as the wind blows the lantern will catch fire or eventually get destroyed by the wind or the rain. In fact, we shall ponder and discuss the impermanence of this life and understand the real purpose of all these materialistic offerings.
Simply speaking, Vesak is celebrated in two-fold ways – one being prathipatthi pooja (paying homage through practice) during the day and amisa pooja (paying homage through material offerings) during the evening.
Unlike any other time, Vesak poya is not only a day of joy and decorations but also a great time to reflect and introspect, as we can contemplate on the four noble truths, Catthurya satta, the fundamental teaching of the Buddha, and strive to cultivate inner peace and harmony in order to end the worldly suffering.
So, in this Vesak, may we be able to use our wisdom to be better humans and to understand the impermanence which helps to eradicate all defilements and attain the supreme bliss, Nibbana!
Happy Vesak and May the Triple Gem bless you!
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