Vesak marks the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha. It shows us that Buddha was no ordinary person, and yet, he was a mere human. Magical tales surround the story of his birth, seven lotuses bloomed, and trees were heavy with flowers and fruit. And then this prince, husband, father, leaves all luxuries behind to seek this truth. When he does, the world shudders and the gods smile. Then after a lifetime of preaching the Dhamma and spreading this truth, he dies. An ordinary death. Food poisoning, some say.
Centuries have passed since the Buddha’s time. We still celebrate Vesak, the full moon day that marks the three main milestones of the Buddha’s life.
Now Vesak has been sadly turned into Halloween. The scary masks which have nothing to do with Vesak seems worse than the commercializing of Valentine’s Day! Dansal which are meant to be about giving are visited for fun, and are organized for fun. People rarely think about why exactly they are having a Dansala! And Dansal hunting has become a fun thing to do on Vesak.
Vesak At home, 2011 and 2013
Then there are the colorful Vesak lanterns. This is the Dhanaya or giving of light. It is believed that the Buddha once said, one lit oil lamp could be used to light many more, without the flame of the first in any way dying. If I’m right, the Buddha was talking about merit and the act of “Pin Dheema” or the conferring of merit. Yet, light has been used as a metaphor for the many issues and topics the Buddha discussed. It is also with light that the Buddha’s enlightenment is marked. The rays of light or “Budhu Ras” mark a sense of purity, of understanding, of having found that one truth that will get you out of this never ending cycle of Sansara. So Vesak lanterns have a story behind them. They aren’t mere decorations. They mark enlightenment. Sadly, not many know this and has lost its meaning. People decorate their houses for Vesak the same way they do for Christmas, not knowing why they do so.
Vesak is obviously a Buddhist holiday. Wearing white, people go to the temple. Most observe Sil. They refrain from eating meat. Vesak is more special than the other Poya days. Yet, it isn’t only Buddhists who visit the Dansal, light up their gardens or go out to see the decorations, Pandols and listen to Bakthi Gee. It isn’t only Buddhists who enjoy a holiday on Vesak and the day following Vesak. Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, Hindus and those with no religious beliefs, they all enjoy the colors, the sound of tissue paper rustling in the wind. Vesak shows that religion, caste, race; they can separate us. But as the Buddha taught us all; tolerance is the key to happiness.

5 thoughts on “Vesak”

  1. The lantern display is beautiful, and I don't think even I will understand the whole "scary mask" concept when we don't even make masks like the traditional Sri Lankan wooden ones! Commercialization is jsut a phenomenon common to every religious festival. The first paragraph is beautiful. An international viewer who has no idea what Buddhism is about, what Theravada Buddhism is about, would fall in love with that bit, I know. Even a Buddhist or anyone well-versed in the story of Lord Buddha would like it. Good work on this .

  2. Masks and those hell houses or haunted houses they make for Vesak. No relevance and it only makes Vesak a festival or a celebration, which it isn't. Which it shouldn't be

  3. Hi Shailee! Thank you very much for explaining the reasons behind the lanterns, dansals, etc. Yes, most people (including myself) are sadly unaware of these. I really liked the idea behind the Vesak lanterns. Beautiful picture collage!!! Masks: even I have no idea what relevance it has with Vesak… :)You covered all aspects of Vesak; the history, the present situation, how it brings people together, etc. NICE!!!

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