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Three in one: Buddha’s Birthday, Enlightenment Day and Passing Away Day is Celebrated on Vesakha

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On May 17th 2011, Buddhists throughout Southeast Asia celebrated Vesakha. The day is important to the followers of the faith for three reasons. First, it is the Buddha’s birthday. Second, it is the official day of Buddha’s enlightenment. And thirdly, it is Buddha’s passing away date. All in one day.

Vesakha falls on the full moon on Uposatha Day (typically the 5th or 6th lunar month). The date varies from year to year in the Western calendar, but usually falls in April or May.

The Buddha was born on a Friday during the Vesak full moon in the year of the dog (the year is speculated but is usually recorded as 563 BCE or 623 BC) in Lumbini, Nepal. At 35 years of age, Buddha obtained enlightenment under a Bodhi Tree in present day Bihar State, India on a Wednesday during the Vesak full moon in the year of the chicken. And finally, 80 years after his birth, Buddha passed away, again on a Vesak full moon during the year of the snake at Kushinagar, India.

The day may have been celebrated for centuries, but it was only until 1950 that the day was declared a holiday throughout the Buddhist world. Most businesses and schools are closed on this day as many take the time to relax during the day, pay homage to the Buddha and pray for family, friends and health in the early morning or during the evening.

So, what do the locals do to celebrate the birth of this important historical man? During this holiday, followers of Buddhism arrive at their local temples before dawn and give offerings such as flowers, candles or incense sticks to Buddha, the Dharma (Buddha’s teachings) and the Sangha (Buddha’s disciples). Others may choose to pay their respects in the evening. Followers will light their candles and incense sticks and along with flowers, circumnavigate around the temple in a clockwise direction. The three circles around the temple again represent the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

In addition, locals will try their best to help the unfortunate by offering donations and gifts. And to make things jolly and happy, many will devote time to decorating their local temples, in preparation for the morning and evening festivities.

Mainland Southeast Asia is a country filled with Buddhist mysticism and wonders. Temples, orange clad monks and wonderful relics await your discovery as you traverse through Theravada Buddhist Southeast Asia. For any questions and comments about our tours or any holidays or festivals, feel free to contact us.

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