Three main events took place on the full moon day in the month of Vaishakha, in different periods of time. It is believed that Gautama Buddha was born on this day. Therefore, it is called Buddha Jayanti. Additionally it is supposed that he attained enlightenment and Mahanirvana (freedom from the circle of birth and death) on this same day.
Buddha is credited with having founded the religion of Buddhism. This day is celebrated not only in India but also in Nepal, Bhutan, Philippines, Thailand and Sri Lanka.
It is also known as Vaishakh Purnima or Vesak. It will be celebrated on the 21st of May in the year 2016.
Around 623 B.C. Siddhartha Gautama was born into a royal family in Kapilavastu. His father was King Suddhodana and his mother, Queen Mahamaya. He became the ruler of the kingdom at the tender age of sixteen after getting married to Princess Yashodra. Until this time, he was kept away from the general miseries of life. One day, while he was out on his chariot he saw an aged man, an ill man, a deceased body and a hermit. It was after witnessing these sights that he chose to renounce his worldly life and go in search of the eternal truth. In spite of endlessly trying to gain knowledge from scholars, he still was not content. This is when he decided to find out the nature of reality on his own accord and wandered for years in search of knowledge. He finally attained enlightenment in Bodh Gaya as he sat meditating under a tree.
Since then he was called Gautama Buddha or ‘The Enlightened One’. He then propagated the knowledge of the ‘Four noble Truths’ through the ‘Eight Fold Path’.
Although Buddha wasn’t a God and he didn’t preach Hinduism, this day is widely celebrated in India. What is surprising is that the preaching’s of the two religion seems to be a stark contrast! The reason is believed to be that Buddha is a personification of Lord Krishna as well as Lord Vishnu. But this concept is only believed in the North; and South Indians are contrary to the belief of Buddha being an avatar of Vishnu at all. Nonetheless, Buddha, therefore, is an important part of the history of Hinduism.
Bodh Gaya is the main pilgrimage centre where the festivities of Buddha Purnima take place. Kapilavastu was the birthplace of Buddha; Bodh Gaya was the place where he attained enlightenment; he preached his dharma at Sarnath, and he passed away at Kushinagar. Therefore, these sites are of immense importance for Buddhists. Devotees flock at the Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya to offer homage. The celebrations take place in the form of adorning the temple, hoisting flags, chanting Buddhist slogans, holding prayers, discourses followed by meditation and parades followed by worship and offerings. A procession is scheduled from this pilgrimage site to the Bodhi tree. Other places follow the same traditions where sermons are chanted in monasteries as well as residential gatherings. Offerings are made to Buddha and delicacies are prepared and distributed. But most importantly, the day is spent by listening to dissertations on his life and teachings.
The idea behind celebrating this occasion is to celebrate humanity and Gautama Buddha’s novel choice. Many choose to help the poor and therefore, undertake donating food, money and other necessities to those in need. It offers a break from the mechanical monotony of life to listen quietly to the meaningful preaching’s that ask us to take a step back and to learn what life is truly about. Devotees try to re-establish their belief in the fundamentals of Panchsheel and the Eight Fold Path. It’s a festival not so much of pomp; but rather sublime.