Vesak (Buddha Purnima, Buddha Jayanti) is a Buddhist festival that marks Gautama Buddha's birth, enlightenment, and death. It falls on the day of the Full Moon in April or May and it is a gazetted holiday in India.
Is Buddha Purnima/Vesak a Public Holiday?
Buddha Purnima/Vesak is a public holiday. It is a day off for the general population, and schools and most businesses are closed.
What Do People Do?
Many Buddhists visit temples on Vesak to listen to monks give talks and recite ancient verses. Devout Buddhists may spend all day in one or more temples. Some temples display a small statue of Buddha as a baby. The statue is placed in a basin filled with water and decorated with flowers. Visitors to the temple pour water over the statue. This symbolizes a pure and new beginning.
Many Buddhists pay special attention to Buddha's teachings during Vesak. They may wear white robes and only eat vegetarian food on and around Vesak. Many people also give money, food or goods to organizations that help the poor, the elderly and those who are sick. Caged animals are bought and set free to display care for all living creatures, as preached by Buddha.
Government offices, post offices, and banks are closed in India on Vesak. Stores and other businesses and organizations may be closed or have reduced opening hours. Transport is usually unaffected as many locals travel for religious celebrations.
Gautama Buddha was a spiritual teacher in India. Many scholars are uncertain when he lived. It is believed that Buddha was born at some time between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE. Opinions among scholars are generally divided between those who place Buddha's death about 480 BCE and those who place it as much as a century later.
Buddha was an influential spiritual teacher during and after his lifetime. Many Buddhists see him as the Supreme Buddha. Festivals to honor Buddha were held for many centuries. The decision to celebrate Vesak as the Buddha's birthday was formalized at the first conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists. This conference was held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in May, 1950. The date was fixed as the day of the Full Moon in May.
Different Buddhist communities may celebrate Vesak on different dates in years when there are two full moons in May. This is because the Buddhist lunar calendar can be interpreted in different ways.
The dharmacakra or dharma wheel is a symbol often seen during Vesak. It is a wooden wheel with eight spokes. The wheel represents Buddha's teaching on the path to enlightenment. The eight spokes symbolize the noble eightfold path of Buddhism.