Vesak is a religious and cultural festival in Sri Lanka. It is celebrated on the day of the full moon in the month of May.
Vesak Day is one of the biggest days of the year and is celebrated by Buddhists all over the world. Buddhists commemorate the important events that took place in the life of Lord Buddha on this day. First comes the birth of Siddhartha Gautama in Lumbini in Nepal which took place under the arbor of Sat trees where queen Mahamaya gave birth to him. The second event was Siddharta Gautam’s supreme attainment as the Buddha, the Enlightened One. The third event was Lord Buddha’s Parinibbana over 2500 years ago at Kusinagar.
Many temples get filled with devotees and pilgrims all over the country to mark this great event. In temples Buddhists worship, offer flowers, light lamps and burn incense. These traditional observances, in essence, have their value in satisfying the religious and emotional needs of the people.
Buddhists generally wear a white dress and go to the temple and participate in the traditional ceremonies.
Many of them spend the whole day in the temple and reaffirm their determination to follow the teachings of Buddha.
On this holy day the ‘Dana’ (alms giving) plays an important role. This is a sign of sharing joy and peace with people. During the Vesak Festival week, the selling of alcohol and flesh is usually prohibited, with abattoirs also being closed.
Other than the exclusive religious aspects of the festival, the Buddhists of Sri Lanka, decorate their houses and public places and arrange for various cultural events.
Birth of Siddharta Gautam
The Siddharth or lord Buddha, the divine creature inquired about five affairs before expiring for the final birth. The inquiries are the: right time, right area, right continent, right caste and right mother.
Then, as any Buddhists know, the fully mindful divine being entered the womb of Queen Mahamaya. A prince was born on a Vesak Poya day to the Queen and King Suddhodana and was named Siddhartha, one who has found meaning of existence. The Queen passed away seven days after the prince’s birth.
Attainment as Lord Buddha
Gautama Buddha was trained in various mental skills under many teachers, only to get disillusioned that they do not have the truth he looked for. The right way to achieve the truth dawned on him one day. He directed his mind in the path of meditation. Moments later he reached enlightenment and conquered the world of sorrows on Vesak Poya day.
Lord Buddha’s Parinibbana
80-year old Gotama Buddha then announced His passing away, Parinibbana, would take place on the third watch of the night at Sal grove of Malla royal family, and it happened to be a Vesak Poya day.
Vesak Pandols (Thorana) in Sri Lanka
In Vesak Season in electrically lit Vesak pandols called thoranas are erected island wide at public places, being mostly sponsored by donors, religious societies and welfare groups. Each pandol illustrates a story from the 550 ‘Jathaka Katha’ or the 550 Past Life Stories of the Buddha.
Vesak Lanterns in Sri Lanka
Vesak lanterns called Vesak koodu are lit in most of the homes in Sri Lanka on Vesak poya day. The lighting signifies an offering to the memory of the Buddha who delivered the message of Dhamma. In ancient times, people used their clay oil lamps for illumination. When candles became popular, colourful lanterns were made in different shapes and colours were used. Many associations arrange competitions on Vesak lanterns with the creators of the most beautiful lanterns being awarded valuable prizes.
Wesak Pandol – Borella
Wesak Pandol – Dematagoda
Wesak Pandol – Nawaloka
Wesak Pandol – Pepiliyana
Wesak Pandol – Piliyandala
Wesak Pandol – Thotalaga
Wesak Lanterns – Lake House Roundabout
Poson full-moon poya day (Poson Poya Day/Poson Festival) is celebrated the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC, a festival of great historical and religious significance celebrated island-wide by Buddhists. Poson, held on the full moon day of June, commemorates the occasion over 2,000 years ago when Arahat Mahinda, son of Emperor Asoka of India, converted King Devanampiyatissa to Buddhism. The main center of celebration is Mihintale, the ancient monastic complex where the royal missionary monk Mahinda perched the first sermon to the ruling king and at Anuradhapura the ancient capital, to which large crowd of pilgrims converge. Mass religious observances, illuminations pageants are part of the celebrations.
Poson Poya is celebrated annually with great fervour throughout the island but particularly in Mihinthalaya where Mahinda Thero first put his foot to preach the word of Lord Buddha.This is why Mihinthalaya is called the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. With the establishment of Bhikku Sasanaya all other elements of a civilized society began to emerge with the art of writing,art, architecture, river civilization, religious rituals in song and dance forms, literature, all with royal patronage.
Many religious activities are organized during this poson period in Sri Lanka such as Sil campaigns,Bodhi Poojas,Dansalas(Freely giving foods, coffee, tea from people ), Poson devotional songs, Poson pandols( thoran) and lanterns. Lot of Poson pandols and Poson Lanterns are making Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka.
In Poson many temples are filled with Atasil devotees and pilgrims all over Sri Lanka to mark this great event. The devout, clad in pure white with no make-up or jewelry,make their way to the temple,to spend the next twenty four hours in quiet contemplation.
While the rest of the village, gather at the temple grounds after sunset to participate in lesser religious activities, like reading of holy books, or listen to the saffron clad monk relate ancient stories from Lord Buddha’s previous lives. During the Poson Festival, the selling of alcohol and flesh is usually prohibited, with abattoirs also being closed.
A festival of great piety and sanctity which focuses on the virtual of compassion to all living creature,it is also one of much colour and gaiety, with street, homes and public places decorated with beautiful and finely decorated hand-made paper lanterns small and big and glittering with illuminations, pandals depicting the different occurrences in the life of the Buddha or his previous births.
Poson Festival Highlights.
Arahant Mahinda Thera test the king’s knowledge
As a result of the conversion of Dig Vijaya policy of the emperor Dharmasoka to that of Dharma Vijaya policy Buddhist missionaries were sent to various countries in the world and to Sri Lanka. Emperor Dharmasoka sent his own son, Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera to lead the delegation. Arahants Ittiya, Uttiya, Sambala and Baddasala accompanied Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera in this missionary. Sumana Samanera also joined them. The only layman in this mission was Bhanduka Upasaka who had attained Anagami or the third of the four paths or stages leading to Nirvana.
It was a pleasant day with fine Weather and king Devanampiyatissa followed by his men engaged himself in a game of hunting in the royal park, ”Missaka Pawwa”. A well built deer ran swiftly by the king’s side. The king had no time to spare. No one other than the king himself was to kill the biggest deer on that festive day. He pulled out an arrow and aimed at the deer. His arrow did not move.A ray of light radiated from the mountain top at the foot of which the king was standing. He heard his name being called in a sweet voice. The king was seriously concerned as to who in this world was dared to call him by his name. Further, presumably he would have been sorry that he missed his game. However, he was not annoyed as the words were pleasing .The king looked up from the foot of the Mango tree where he was standing dumb founded and saw the figure of a human being in yellow robes with rays radiating from the spectrum. The king could not remove his eyes away from this fascinating figure. He was amazed. ”This should be a supernatural being”the king thought. Hitherto the king saw only one figure. The other four arahants, the samanera and the upasaka too emerged one by one. Arahant Mahinda ascertained that the king was prepared to listen to him.
For the mighty king, the charm of Missaka Pawwa was that on it stood the treasure he was longing for. His bow and arrow fell from his hands. He put his hands together on his forehead and knelt down on the ground under the Mango tree. Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera decided to test the king’s knowledge and intelligence and to ascertain whether he could understand the Dhamma by delivering it in the normal way.