Different Buddhist communities may celebrate Vesak on different dates in years when there are two full moons in May. This is because the Buddhist lunar calendar can be interpreted in different ways.
The day is a holiday observed traditionally by Buddhists in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, India, and the South East Asian countries of Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar and Indonesia, and other places all over the world.
Sometimes informally called “Buddha`s Birthday”, it actually commemorates the birth, enlightenment (nirvāna), and death (Parinirvāna) of Gautama Buddha in the Theravada or southern tradition.
What do people do?
Many Buddhists visit temples on Vesak to listen to monks give talks and recite ancient verses. Devout Buddhists may spend all day in one or more temples. Some temples display a small statue of Buddha as a baby. The statue is placed in a basin filled with water and decorated with flowers. Visitors to the temple pour water over the statue. This symbolizes a pure and new beginning.
Many Buddhists pay special attention to Buddha`s teachings during Vesak. They may wear white robes and only eat vegetarian food on and around Vesak. Many people also give money, food or goods to organizations that help the poor, the elderly and those who are sick. Caged animals are bought and set free to display care for all living creatures, as preached by Buddha.
Gautama Buddha was a spiritual teacher in Indian subcontinent. Many scholars are uncertain when he lived. It is believed that Buddha was born at some time between sixth and fourth centuries BCE. Opinions among scholars are generally divided between those who place Buddha`s death about 480 BCE and those who place it as much as a century later.
Buddha was an influential spiritual teacher during and after his lifetime. Many Buddhists see him as the Supreme Buddha. Festivals to honor Buddha were held for many centuries. The decision to celebrate Vesak as the Buddha`s birthday was formalized at the first conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists.
The dharmacakra or dharma wheel is a symbol often seen during Vesak. It is a wooden wheel with eight spokes. The wheel represents Buddha`s teaching on the path to enlightenment. The eight spokes symbolize the noble eightfold path of Buddhism.
History of Buddha
Buddha was given the name of Siddhartha by his parents and he was the son of the King of Kapilvastu, Shuddhodhan. Siddhartha`s father had kept him unaware of the tragedies of life for a long time and he was even married and had a son. It was only when one day Siddhartha insisted his chariot driver to take him out of the palace that he became aware of the problems and tragedies of life and people.
After this he left the palace at night and set out to learn the real meaning of life. He sacrificed his life of luxury and wandered many places in search of truth. Finally under a banyan tree he is said to have meditated for years and was enlightened there. This tree is in Bodh Gaya, India. Only after this he was given the name of Gautam Buddha.