Buddha Purnima – What is it & Why it Celebrated!

Buddha Purnima, also known as Buddha Jayanti or Vesak is the most sacred day in the Buddhist calendar. It holds special importance as it commemorates the three most significant events in the life of Gautama Buddha – His birth, enlightenment and nirvana; all three took place on the same day – full moon day of the lunar month Vaishakha.

Also known as the ‘Light of Asia’, Gautam Buddha was among the greatest spiritual teachers of all times. His message and teachings have travelled far and wide, around the globe..

Gautam Buddha’s Life:

According to the legend, Queen Mahamaya gave birth to Buddha under the shade of two sal trees at Lumbini on the full moon day of Vaishakha, on her way to Devdaha. Siddhartha was the only son of Shuddhodana, the King of Kapilavastu and thus led a protected life; ignorant of miseries, sorrows and sufferings.

At the age of 29, on his visit to the city he saw – an old man, a sick man and a dead body, for the very first time in his life; this changed his life forever. His mind was filled with numerous questions; to seek the answers and search for the true meaning of life he left all royal luxuries and worldly pleasures. He went from one religious centre to another searching in vain answers to his questions.

Finally in a forest near Gaya, he meditated for six years, then took his seat under a Bodhi tree and decided to stay there until he found the answers to his questions.

One Vaishakha full moon night, he attained enlightenment and found the answers to the four truths of life – the existence of pain and suffering, their causes, the need to overcome them and the means of doing so. Thus, he became Siddhartha – the Buddha or Gautam Buddha – the Enlightened One.

Thereafter, he travelled far and wide preaching; his followers consisted of scholars, sanyasis, kings and their ministers. In 483 BC, at the age of 80 the Buddha attained nirvana; it was the same day as Buddha’s birthday and the day he attained enlightenment.

Rituals & Celebration:

On this day Buddhists wear only white clothes. Prayers and sermons are offered in monasteries, religious halls and homes. Daylong reading of scriptures by monks takes place in the monasteries. People offer flowers, candles and fruits to the statue of Buddha. The Bodhi Vriksha or the Pepal tree is beautifully lit with lamps and decorated with garlands.

People reaffirm their faith in the five principles called Panchsheel. Stalls are set up by them in public places to offer clean drinking water to others. They refrain from eating meat; kheer is a special preparation on this day.

Bodh Gaya in Bihar and Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh are the two main places where elaborate celebration takes place.

Celebrations in Bodh Gaya

People from all over the world come to attend ceremonies that take place at Bodh Gaya, the place where Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment. The Mahabodhi Temple is decorated to mark the special occasion. Throughout the day prayer, meets, sermons on the life of Gautam Buddha, religious discourse, group meditation and processions take place.

Celebrations in Sarnath

Sarnath was where Buddha delivered his first sermon. A large fair is organised on the occasion of Buddha Purnima. Relics of the Buddha are brought out for public display in a procession. Devotees offer fruits, flowers and candles to the statue of Lord Buddha and pay respect to the great teacher.

Besides these two places, the festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm in areas with large Buddhist population like Ladakh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh in India.

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