Vesak or Buddha Purnima or Buddha Jayanti is one of the most important and sacred festivals for Buddhists all over the world. It marks the birthday of Lord Buddha and also observes his enlightenment and death. This auspicious day falls on a full moon day each year and this year it falls on the 7th May, hence the name Buddha Purnima as it is widely known all over India. It was on this particular day that Lord Buddha chose to preach his first sermon in Varanasi or Banaras in India.
However, it should be noted that different Buddhist communities may celebrate Buddha Purnima on different dates provided there are two full moons on the month of May.
Many scholars are not certain about when Gautam Buddha lived but it is believed he was born between sixth and fourth century BCE. Buddhists all over the world regard him as the Supreme Buddha as he was an influential spiritual teacher when he lived and even after he died. But the decision to celebrate this particular day as his birthday was first formalized at the first-ever conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, May 1950.
There are different ways to celebrate Buddha Purnima, many Buddhists visit temples and listen to the speech given by the monks or recite ancient verses. Pious Buddhists prefer to spend all day in temples. Buddha statues are worshipped with the offerings of flowers, fruits, candles, and incense. In some temples, a small statue of Buddha as a baby is also put on display as it is placed in a basin filled with water and decorated with flowers. Devotees pour water over the statue to mark a new and pure beginning.
It is of extreme importance to pay special attention to the teachings of the Buddha on this special day. On this day normally non-vegetarian food is avoided and kheer or sweet rice porridge can be found commonly served. This is to recall the story of a maiden named Sujata who is remembered to offer Buddha a bowl of milk porridge.
As preached by Buddha, one should be compassionate towards all living beings many believe in helping the poor and needy. Animals that are caged are set free to follow the teaching of compassion by Lord Buddha and to show care for all living creatures.
During Buddha Purnima or Vesak dharmachakra or the dharma wheel is the symbol that can be seen on this day. It comprises of a wooden wheel with eight spokes representing the noble eightfold path in Buddhism.