Vesak – The Magical Buddhist Festival
it’s the time Vesak Flowers turn up their delicate pinkish-purple heads. In the secret nooks of Sinharaja and Adam’s Peak they are in filmy bloom. These blossoms are sacred to the month of May- The month when the Island is all alive and aglow with the most magical religious festival of all time, the Veask.
Avurudu just waved good-bye and Vesak is here. The consciousness that the festival is just around the bend is beautiful. All because I know the celebration is going to be an exquisite one. No wonder I frequently get ‘this time, last year’ thoughts.
Celebrated on the full moon day of the month of May, Vesak is a celebration of three life events of Lord Buddha. Namely, the Birth of Siddhartha Gautama, Enlightenment and Passing away into Nirvana. It’s said that the Prince Siddhartha was born on a Vesak poya day in Lumbini. After years of following various paths, on a Vesak poya day Lord Buddha attainted enlightenment. It was also on a Vesak day that Lord Buddha passed away at a Sal Grove in Kushinagar.
When I think of Vesak, I think of Lights. Almost all Vesak decorations are illuminated with candles or electric lights. To me the loveliest part of the season is the making of Vesak Lanterns. They are beautiful lanterns made of bamboo frames and decorated with coloured papers. Last week I was staying at a friend’s home and we had a jolly time of it making the lanterns. Going to the woods for some bamboo, cutting them into right sizes, making the perfect shapes- stars and lotuses! and decorating them with the prettiest coloured papers. On the Vesak day they will hang the lanterns on the branches of the trees in their garden and light a candle inside each. Imagine the soft shine of the lanterns right under the stars.
Electrically lit and massive, Vesak Pandols depict life stories of Lord Buddha. They are erected usually in the heart of the towns. It’s of course one bustling affair with lots of crowds. Religious themed songs are played loudly in the background. You may not like being in a crowd in the night, but I guarantee you’ll be wonderstruck by the pandol- its brilliance and all. It’s just wonderful how big, colourful and illuminated the pandols are.
Roadside stalls called ‘dansal’ giving away free refreshments are another highlight of the season. When you’re driving by, the friendly locals will wave a flag signing you to stay and enjoy some treats. Could be rice and curry, ice cream, coffee or biscuits. Of course it’s a lovely treat to the people who are on the road on long pilgrimages during the Vesak holidays.
On the night of the Vesak Poya the temple grounds go magical. The moon shine, all silvery falls on the soft sands of the temple premises. The glitter of the hundreds of clay oil lamps, the fragrance of the incense sticks burning, the lovely smell of a myriad of pretty blossoms. The music of the devotional songs makes the picture complete. It does give me such a tranquil, peaceful feeling. On the Vesak night the world forgets how really busy it was the night before and how busy it will be the next day. This is the night when the world glories in the quiet and peaceful things of life.
If you be here in the Vesak season, don’t forget to feel the real charm of Vesak. Don’t be too busy to stop by a pandol. Drop in to a ‘dansal’ and have a light treat. Have a look at the rosy radiance of the lanterns in home gardens. The best thing about Vesak is that you don’t have to spend extra time to enjoy the magic. Vesak is all over, on the road, in the air. You can feel it in the glistening shine of the full moon, the brilliance of the lanterns and shiny Vesak buckets from home gardens and the roadside temples aglow with lights.