Celebrated In: India in Spring Season
Celebrated By: Bodh (Hindu)
In India, Buddha Purnima is celebrated during the Vaishakha month to commemorate the birth anniversary of Gautam Buddha; the founder of Buddhism. Gautam Buddha’s original name was Siddhartha Gautama. Buddha was the founder of Buddhism religion. Most historians opined about his lifetime between 563-483 B.C. Most people believe that Buddha was born in Lumbini of Nepal. Lord Buddha attained Nirvana (salvation) at the age of 80 at Kushinagar of Uttar Pradesh. Buddhists consider Bodh Gaya as the most important pilgrimage as the site is closely related to the life of Gautam Buddha. Besides Bodh Gaya, other three important pilgrimage sites that holds a lot of importance for Buddhists are Kushinagar, Lumbini, and Sarnath. Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment at Bodhagaya and he first gave his spiritual teachings at Sarnath. Buddha Purnima is popularly known as Buddha Jayanti, Vesak, Vaishaka and Buddha's Birthday and it is believed that Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment on this day.
Buddha is revered and worshipped as the 9th incarnation of Lord Vishnu in North India. However, South Indian people never believed Buddha as incarnation of Lord krishna. South Indian people consider Balarama as the 8th incarnation and Krishna as the 9th incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Balarama is considered as an incarnation of Vishnu by most of the Vaishnava movements. However Buddhists never consider Buddha as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
Buddha Purnima Rituals:
On Buddha Purnima Buddhists visit temples to listen ancient verses recited by the holy monks. Some devotees spend the whole day worshipping in temples. Some Buddhist temples have a small baby statue of Lord Buddha, which is placed in a basin filled with water and beautiful flowers. Visitors congregate in the temple to pour water over the statue; this ritual signifies a pure and new beginning.
Many Buddhists observe the holy day by paying special attention to Buddha's values. Devotees wear white robes and have vegetarian food on the occasion of Vesak. Some people donate money, food or essential goods to the poor, the elderly, needy and sick people. Buddhists buy caged animals and set them free owing to Buddha’s preaching of showing love, kindness and care for all living creatures.
Buddha Purnima is a gazetted holiday; hence government offices, post offices and banks remain closed in India on this day. Stores and other business organizations remain closed or have limited opening hours on Vesak.
Gautam Buddha’s Background:
Gautama Buddha, the spiritual teacher in India had founded the Buddhism religion. Buddha took birth at some time in between sixth and fourth centuries BCE. However the opinions of scholars differ with each other regarding Buddha’s birth and salvation.
Buddha still continues to be an influential spiritual teacher among many Indians, as he advocated about peace, love, care and selfless service. He is regarded as the Supreme Buddha by many of his followers. The decision of celebrating Vesak as the Buddha's birthday was taken during the first conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, which was held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in May, 1950. In this conference it was decided to fix the Vesak on the Full Moon day in May.
However the date of celebrating Buddha Purnima varies for different Buddhist communities, when two full moons fall in the month of May. This happens because the lunar calendar of Buddhism is interpreted in several ways.
The birth Of the Lord:
Lord Buddha took birth in about the year 563 BCE in the Sakya kingdom (in present-day it is called Southern Nepal) on the full moon day of the month of Vaisakha. He was to born to King Suddhodana and his Queen Maya. Initially Buddha was named as Siddhartha by his parents; the name means “He Who Achieves His Goal”. Soon after Siddhartha’s birth, the king’s holy saints made a prediction that the little prince would become a universal monarch, or a Buddha (awakened one). His father wanted him to be his successor; hence put in lot of efforts to prevent Siddharth to come in contact with any religious path.
King Sudhhodhan brought up his son Siddhartha in great luxury and at the age of 16 he got married to princess Yasodhara. Gradually he lost interest in worldly pleasures as at the age of 29 he encountered four signs – an old man, a sick man, a corpse and an ascetic. He felt that the life of a saint will the way of getting ultimate peace and enlightenment. He left his life of luxury to search the truth and peace.
He wandered in search of truth for nearly about six years and practised various forms of self-mortification. But soon he realised that these cannot lead him to what he sought for. He then decided to change his way of life to follow his own path. He meditated under the peepal bodhi tree and determined not to end his meditation without attaining enlightenment.
After meditating for forty-nine days, he attained enlightenment at the age of 35. Siddhartha became a supreme Buddha on the full moon day of the month of Vaisakha at Bodh Gaya. From that day onwards he was called in different names like, Siddhartha Gautam, Gautam Buddha, Sakyamuni Buddha or the Buddha.
The dharma chakra is the holy symbol, which is mostly seen during Vesak. The dharma chakra is basically a wooden wheel with eight spokes. The Dharma wheel signifies Lord Buddha's teaching on the path to attain enlightenment. The eight spokes also signify the noble eightfold path of Buddhism.
Buddha Purnima Celebrations:
On Vesak or Buddha Purnima, people usually adorn white clothes as white is the colour of peace. Devotees distribute kheer to Lord Buddha; the legend is that a woman named Sujata had offered Gautam Buddha kheer on this holy day and hence offering Kheer became tradition since then.
Foods to celebrate Buddha Purnima:
On Vesak, the statue of Lord Buddha is placed in a basin filled with water and beautiful flowers. In India, Buddhists celebrate Buddha Purnima by congregating in common Viharas, where they observe a full-length Buddhist sutra that is similar to a service. Buddhists on this sacred day only have non-vegetarian food; kheer is one of the most popular delicacies of the day. People avoid any hard or pungent spices like onion and garlic on this day.