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Buddha Purnima: Remembering Gautam Buddha

Buddha Purnima falls on 21st May this year. Buddha is considered to be the 8th incarnation of Lord Vishnu and 9th incarnation of Lord Krishna in North India.

By Shubhi Mangla

Buddha Purnima is an important festival for the Buddhists in several countries across the world. The festival marks the birth, enlightenment and death of Gautam Buddha and is also called ‘Vesak’ or ‘Buddha Jayanti’. It is celebrated with great enthusiasm among Buddhists living in India, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan and various other countries.

Gautam Buddha was born around 563 BCE in Lumbini, Nepal. He was a spiritual teacher all through his life. He was born to King Suddhodana as Siddhartha Gautama. At the age of 29 he gave up royal life after learning through four encounters called ‘four sights’ in Buddhist literature which were- ordinary people, an old man, a sick person and a holy man, content with the world. His teachings led to the foundation of Buddhism. Buddha wandered to many places and took shelter under a Banyan tree in India called Bodhi Gaya. He swore to meditate till he achieved enlightenment which he did after 49 days. Buddha is considered to be the 8th incarnation of Lord Vishnu and 9th incarnation of Lord Krishna in North India.

Buddhist pilgrims at Mahabodhi temple, Bodh Gaya, Bihar Source: Wikimedia Commons
Buddhist pilgrims at Mahabodhi temple, Bodh Gaya, Bihar
Source: Wikimedia Commons

  • The festival falls usually celebrated in May, on the full moon day (In Buddha Purinama, ‘Purinma’ means full moon). The festival can be celebrated on different days by different Buddhist communities. This is because of the difference between the interpretations of Lunar calendar. All government and private organizations are closed or their opening hours are reduced on this day.
  • On this day, Buddhists visit temples to listen to speeches given by monks who also recite ancient verses. Some temples display small sculptures of Baby Buddha placed in a basin filled with clean water and embellished with flowers. People who come to the temple pour water on the statue which symbolizes a new beginning especially in Taiwan.

Devotees bathing baby Buddha statue Source: Wikimedia Commons
Devotees bathing baby Buddha statue
Source: Wikimedia Commons

  • Bodh Gaya, a small town in Bihar is a famous pilgrimage related to Lord Buddha where the main celebrations take place. The Mahabodhi Tree where Buddha was known to attain enlightenment is worshiped and offerings are made.

Mahabodhi Tree Source: Wikimedia Commons
Mahabodhi Tree
Source: Wikimedia Commons

  • Some Buddhists dedicate this day to Lord Buddha. They wear white clothes and eat pure vegetarian food. Some people help the poor, elderly people and the sick. Caged animals are often bought and set free to display affection for animals as preached by Lord Buddha. In India, a sweet porridge in remembrance of a maid who offered Buddha a bowl of milk porridge.
  • During Vesak, Dharma chakra or Dharma wheel can be often seen. The wheel is known to symbolize the path of Buddha’s teaching towards enlightenment. The wheel has eight strokes which symbolize eightfold path of Buddhism which are right belief, right intention, right thinking, right living, right efforts, right conduct, right words and right meditation.
  • Buddha’s four noble truths are the foundation of Buddhism. They are− all human conditions lead to suffering, suffering has a cause, the cause is desire or craving and there is a path for ceasing desires.
  • Buddha’s 5 percepts help a person to follow the right path in life. They are− not killing, not stealing, not misusing sex, not lying and not consuming alcohol.
  • In Cambodia, Vesak is a public holiday. People are seen carrying flags, incense and candle sticks and lotus flowers to celebrate the day. People also offer money or goods to the monks.

Jokhang Monastery - Dharma Wheel, the eight spokes represent the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism Source: Wikimedia Commons
Jokhang Monastery – Dharma Wheel, the eight spokes represent the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism
Source: Wikimedia Commons

  • In Korea, temples are decorated with lotus flowers. Free meals and tea are served to temple visitors.
  • In Sri Lanka, people decorate their houses with lanterns. People practice ‘Dansalas’ which refers to the practice of offering food and drinks to people. Stories from Buddha’s life are depicted through electric display.

People giving alms to Buddhist monks Source: www.thaibuddhist.com
People giving alms to Buddhist monks
Source: www.thaibuddhist.com

  • Buddha’s teachings mainly centered on the sufferings of people in this world. Simple living and care towards fellow human beings and animals were his greatest lessons. His teachings bring peace to the mind and content to our soul.

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Shubhi Mangla is an intern at Newsgram and  a student of Journalism in New Delhi. Twitter @shubhi_mangla

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