What is Vesak Poya?
Vesak Poya is the foremost Buddhist festival celebrated by Buddhists all over the world. 3 main events related to Buddha’s life are celebrated here. Those moments are the three occasions of Prince Siddhartha’s birth, Sri Sambuddha, and Parinirvana. The Buddhist people of the world are engaged in various kinds of religious ceremonies for that. On the day of Vesak, many other important events have taken place in addition to the Lord Buddha’s threefold prayer.
- The birth of Buddha
- Buddha’s Enlightenment
- Buddha’s parinirvana
- Demonstration of Yamamaha before the Sakyas at Kimbulwat
- Buddha’s third visit to Kelaniya, Sri Lanka
- Ananda Thero passed away
- At the invitation of Lord Sumana Saman, the establishment of Buddha Siri Patula on the top of Samanala Mountain. (This is what is known as Sri Pada today)
- Prince Vijay’s visit to Ceylon
In addition to the above events, events such as the commencement of work at Ruwanweli Sai and the first initiation of the Upasampada ceremony of the Maha Vihara also took place on the day of Vesak. In addition, in the past, the consecration of Sinhala Buddhist kings was also done on Vesak poya day.
Prince Siddhartha is believed to have been born 624 years before Christ’s birth (in 624 BC) in a sal flower garden in the village of Lumbini in Uttar Bharata (Northern India). It was on a Vesak Full Moon Poya day. King Suddhodana of the Shakya clan and Goddess Mahamaya were his parents. As Goddess Mahamaya died seven days after birth, Maha Prajapati Gotami took care of the infant prince and nurtured him from then on. She is the sister of Goddess Mahamaya. The Brahmins who came to the naming ceremony, looking at the physical characteristics and timings, saw that this prince would one day bring meaning to the world and declared that the name Siddhartha was appropriate. From then on, this noble prince became known as Prince Siddhartha. Siddhartha was known as Gautama because he was named Gotama by the tribe.
According to the predictions of the Brahmins, the king believed that this prince would one day leave the palace and live a spiritual life. Therefore, somehow he managed to keep the prince in the palace by preparing everything he needed. Arranged everything on the palace grounds so as not to give the prince a chance to see the world around him. Sarvamitra, one of the highest Brahman teachers in Uttar Bharata at that time, brought the Brahman to the palace and educated him. As per ancient Indian custom, marriage was also performed at the age of 16. She is a princess named Yashodhara of the Koliya caste. It is mentioned in the Buddhist literature that King Suddhodana arranged for Prince Siddhartha to enter a luxurious palace on his wedding day and to be enthroned. However, one day while going to the garden for sports, due to the four premonitions he saw, the prince, who was frustrated with his life, had a strong desire to find the truth of this life.
The prince understood that a man who does not see this truth is wandering in the world and suffering endlessly. He saw how he lived a dull life without seeing the main purpose of being human and how he became sad and regretful in the end. He felt the need to search for the truth for all of them and make that truth known to the burning and suffering people of this world. But while planning all this, he received another message. His wife Yashodara gave birth to their first child. A matter that needs to be thought over and over again to reach its goal. Leaving the wife alone with the child is not an acceptable act. But by not going on this trip, only his family members will be benefited. That too is only temporary happiness.
But they understood that if they go on this journey, the whole world will be healed forever. Accordingly, he came to the most difficult decision that a father and a husband can take. They decided to leave the palace leaving behind their comfort, happiness, and position for the people of the world. He shaved his hair and dressed in yellow clothes and went to the forest to seek the truth of life and samsara to the teachers Bhargava, Alarakalama, and Uddakarama Putta. But he realized that none of them had a true understanding of this, so he decided to go on his journey alone. Accordingly, they decided to understand the truth by putting a lot of suffering on the body. He did not take proper care and stayed away from all the facilities and followed this path for six years, after realizing that it was useless, he focused on a new path. After suffering for six years, they decided to go to the middle of the road and understand the truth that they could not understand. Accordingly, following the Madhyama Pratipada, He realized the noble Samma Sambodhi in the shade of an Asatu Bo tree in the Neranjana river belt.
According to Buddhists, Buddhahood is the highest state of intelligence a human can attain. It happens on Vesak Pun Poho about 588 years before the birth of Christ. Since then, Lord Gautama Buddha, who dedicated his time and labor to the people of the world for 45 years, passed away at the age of 80 in the Upavattana Sal forest in Kusinara. That was 423 years before the birth of Christ. Buddhists commemorate these three occasions through the Vesak festival. This festival is known as Buddha The Magula, Buddhist festival, Visakha festival, and Vaishakya festival.
Vesak celebrations in the past.
Vesak festival has a long history. It is evident from the Deshatana report of Pahiyan Thero that it was celebrated even in ancient India. In Sri Lanka, B.C. It is mentioned in the history books of Sri Lanka that this festival was celebrated even in the second century.
The kings who have ruled Sri Lanka in the past have mentioned the following regarding the celebration of the Vesak festival. King Duttagamini Maha, who ruled Sri Lanka in the second century BC, held 24 Vesak festivals, King Bhatia 28 Vesak festivals, and King Vasabha 44 Vesak festivals. In addition, King Voharatissa, King Jettatissa, King Dalamugalan, King Sena II, etc. were especially famous for celebrating Vesak festivals. King Maha Parakramabahu who lived in the Polonnaru period has given special royal patronage to the Vesak festival. A Vesak festival celebrated by Pandita Parakramabahu, who lived in the Dambadeni era, is well described in the history book called Pujavaliya.
When the western nations ruled Sri Lanka, the Vesak festival was greatly disturbed. In 1770 AD, through a special act, the Dutch announced that Vesak is not a public holiday in this country. The governor at that time, William Falk, was engaged in strictly suppressing Buddhism during this period. In 1815, the white rulers agreed to protect Buddhism in the Upland Treaty, but it was just a phrase. After the independence struggle of 1848, they gradually released themselves from the responsibility of Buddhism and engaged in spreading Christianity.
On June 12, 1873, after the Buddhists won the debate that started with the then pastor of the Panadura Wesleyan Church, David Silva, calling Buddhism a false mythical religion, Henry Steele Olcott and Mrs. Blavatsky, who read the reports, came to Sri Lanka. Mr. Olcott consulted with Lord Derby, who was the Colonial Secretary at that time and made Vesak Pohoya a public holiday in Sri Lanka. Vesak became a public holiday as a result of the decree of Governor Gordon on March 27, 1885. This holiday was legally confirmed by Ordinance No. 4 of 1886. Just as American Henry Steele Olcott worked to make Vesak a holiday again, in 1999, Tamilian Lakshman Kadiragamar worked hard to make Vesak an international holiday. According to Mr. A’s commitment, the United Nations declared Vesak Poho an international holiday in 2000.
How Buddhist people celebrate Vesak poya day.
Not all Buddhists in the world celebrate Vesak as a festival of joy. They rejoice in charity. This situation is also seen in Hindu, Christian, and Islamic festivals. Dhansalas, Bodhi Pooja, Pahan Pooja, Abhaya Dana Pooja, Blood Donations, Shramadana for cleaning public places, tree planting, etc. are widely performed in this era. Apart from that, they also do decoration by constructing pandals, lighting lanterns, and displaying flags.
On the day of Vesak Poya, you can see various decorations in all the houses all over Sri Lanka. Traveling to Sri Lanka during this time will be a different experience for you. Vesak is celebrated for a whole week. The Sri Lankan government designates the week of Vesak Poya as Vesak Week. Vesak falls in May. That is why the month of May is also known as the month of Vesak.