– By Sam Anna Lee
As the host of the United Nations Day of Vesak 2019, the international humanistic festival that first began in 2000, Vietnam welcomed more than 1,500 international delegates from over 100 countries, and over 10,000 Buddhist followers in the country. The conference traditionally showcases Buddhism values and its relevance in the modern world.
This year, the six-day affair featured forums on the Buddhist approach in areas such as sustainable peace, harmonious families, global education in ethics, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and responsible consumption. Delegates and participants also delighted in cultural events like the Bathing of the Buddha ritual, a candle-lit procession for world peace, lantern displays and colourful parades; as well as various art exhibitions and cultural shows.
Photo credit: Vision Travel
Lord Buddha’s Parinirvana, or Duechen Nga Zom, always falls on the 15th day of the fourth month of the Bhutanese calendar (Saga Dawa), often landing sometime in May or June. This year, it’s on June 17. In this distinctly Buddhist country, the entire month of Saga Dawa is auspicious, and Bhutan bans the import and sale of meat during this holiest month.
On the day of Duechen Nga Zom, thousands of devotees across the Kingdom offer prayers and butter lamps in lhakhangs and goendeys (temples and monasteries). Religious idols and relics are displayed to bestow a blessing. In Thimphu, many will gather at the monastery and fortress of Tashichho Dzong, which is also the seat of the government and the throne room and offices of the king. Religious practices such as visiting monasteries, turning prayer wheels, and making offerings, are believed to double spiritual merit on this day.
Photo credit: Jen in Bhutan
Here in the original birthplace of Buddha, thousands of devotees flocked to Lumbini to donate supplies to disadvantaged communities and pay tribute to monasteries. People celebrated this day wearing white while avoiding meat. Kheer, a sweet rice porridge, was served to recall the story of a maiden who offered the Buddha a bowl of milk porridge after he had given up the path of asceticism following six years of extreme austerity. This event signifies one of the major links in his enlightenment — where he realised that without food one can do nothing, and refrained from harming his own body.
Photo credit: Toronto Star
Buddha Day is celebrated on the full moon day of Kason, the second month of the lunar calendar traditionally followed in Myanmar. Every year, Buddhists carrying earthen pots of water flock to the pagodas to water the sacred Maha-Bodhi tree (the holy Banyan tree), under which the former Prince Siddharttha attained enlightenment.
The act of pouring water on the Banyan tree is an expression of piety and respect. This is particularly so as the month of Kason is always in the middle of the hot season, and believers water the beloved Banyan trees to ensure they survive the dry earth and drought.
Photo credit: Yangon Life
On the streets of Colombo, a party atmosphere ensued on Vesak Day. Homes were decorated with paper lanterns while devotees walked on the streets in float processions and parades. The streets were a dizzying array of lights and music, decked out with strings of fairy lights, big Buddha statues, food carts and more lanterns. The highlights of the festival were the enormous elaborate electric light displays made with study paper and cardboard, depicting different stories from Buddha’s life. Neighbourhoods, clubs, and families competed against each other for the most beautiful display and prizes were awarded for the best creativity.
Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, one of Colombo’s oldest Buddhist temples, also hosted a colourful Vesak Day festival.
Photo credit: Time Out