Buddha Jayanti is one of the most sacred festivals celebrated in Nepal to honor Gautama Buddha, the Light of Asia. It falls on the first full moon day of the Nepali month Baisakh (April/May) according to the Lunar Calendar, hence calling the day “Buddha Purnima” too. But dates on Georgian Calendar each year, but usually fall in May.
Buddha Jayanti is the birth day of Gautama Buddha. Buddha means “Awakened One”. Gautama Buddha is also known as Shakyamuni. Apart from Nepal, counties like Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam also celebrate Buddha Purnima as the main festival. Buddha Purnima day enlightens us about the learnings of Life, Death and Nirvana. It is believed that Gautam Buddha left his physical body at the age of 80. There he attained “Pari Nirvana” which means beyond life and death.
This year marks 2566th Buddha Purnima. Followers of Buddhism have been celebrating Buddhist festivals for centuries, but the decision to celebrate this day formally was only taken at the first conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists held in Sri Lanka in 1950 AD.
How is Buddha Jayanti Celebrated in Nepal
On the occasion of Buddha Jayanti, many processions and programs take place in Lumbini, the birth place of Buddha. The devotees decorate the Maya Devi temple very beautifully with colorful lights. The statue of Gautam Buddha is mounted on a chariot, and a procession is carried out. The procession also consists of the musicians playing musical instruments and women devotees singing and dancing. The participants chant various prayers and speech. The monks deliver speeches about Buddhism and its importance in human life. Another special event called, “The Great Buddha Jayanti Fair” also occurs on the day where devotees from Nepal as well as other parts of the world participate.
The Swayambhunath stupa, one of the World Heritage Sites of Kathmandu, located in the west of Kathmandu, receives a huge mass of devotees during the day. The devotees from different parts of the country come to the stupa early in the morning to worship and make prayers. The stupa is busy all day receiving the lights, butter lamps, rice, coins, prayers and flowers from the devotees. Old prayer flags (Lungta) hanging from the spire of the stupa are replaced by the new ones while monks Chant “Om Mani Padme Hun” during the ceremony.
The Bouddhanath stupa, another World Heritage Site of Kathmandu also celebrates the festival in a fascinating way. An elephant having an image of Buddha on its head leads the procession starting from the Stupa to yet another small stupa, the Charumati Stupa in Chabahil. The surface of the stupa is painted with the large petals of lotus by using yellow saffron. The followers listen to sermons on Buddha teachings, three jewels and 5 precepts delivered by the chief monk at monasteries. Later on, people pay their respect by lighting candles and reciting the three jewels and 5 precepts” Panchasil”.
The stupas are decorated with the lights which look amazing. The lightning all around these huge stupas feels like they are the pieces of heaven that landed on earth. Nothing more is satisfying and peaceful than a view of these stupas glowing gloriously throughout the night. People prepare various delicacies on this day and cherish the gratefulness of life.
Celebration of Buddha Jayanti outside Nepal
In Sri Lanka, the followers of Gautama Buddha light up the lotus lanterns around the temple in the memory of Gautama Buddha while in Indonesia, the lanterns are released into the air. In Taiwan, the Buddha Jayanti is celebrated as a national anniversary and the devotees offer fragranced water over a statue of Buddha indicating the fresh start in life. In Myanmar, Buddha Jayanti is a public holiday, and the Full Moon of Kason is the day of celebrating Buddha Jayanti. People also water the Bodhi trees, chant prayers, and perform music and dances. The Japanese people celebrate Buddha Jayanti as Kanbustu or Hanamatsuri (the Flower Festival). The devotees pour a beverage named ama-cha prepared from a variety of hydrangea on Buddha statues and decorate them. Lion dances are also a major attraction in Japan during the celebration of Buddha Jayanti. In Thailand, Buddha Jayanti is marked as national holiday and regarded as “Visakha Bucha”. Buddhists celebrate the festival by visiting temple, make merit by offering alms to monks, meditating, and attending sermons. In the evenings, candle light procession is held at temples where devotees walk three times around the temple signifying the “Threefold Jewel of Buddhism”, one the Buddha, two his teachings, and three the monkhood. In Bangladesh, Buddhist monks adorn temple in vibrant decorations and candles. There will be large fairs in and around temples and performances of Buddha’s life is conducted.
Gautama Buddha’s Life Story
Gautama Buddha was a prince of Kapilvastu, the Palace of Kapila, born to King Suddhodana and Queen Maya Devi who originally named him Siddhartha Gautama. According to legends, on the day Maya Devi conceived a child, she dreamt of a white elephant with six tusks entering her right part of the body. As per the existing Nepalese tradition of giving birth at one’s natal home, queen Maya Devi was traveling to her birth home for the delivery of Siddhartha Gautama. She suffered labor pain and her child was born in Lumbini under a bodhi tree. It is said that as soon as baby Siddhartha was born, he declared that this was his last birth on earth and walked seven steps, and on those seven steps seven lotuses bloomed.
Being born into a royal family, Siddhartha Gautama had a luxurious life. The king at the advice of the royal priest kept Siddhartha away from world suffering. He was unaware of the world outside his palace, the suffering, and misery of human lives until one day when Siddhartha Gautam saw an old man, a diseased person, and a deceased body. The young prince was shocked to learn about those heart-wrenching conditions and also the fact that they are inevitable. He decided to find out what caused those sufferings to humanity and what can be done to eliminate them.
At the age of 29, the Prince Siddhartha left the royal palace, the luxuries of life, his wife Yasodhara, and son Rahula to start a chapter of monkhood. He meditated under a Bodhi tree and finally found that the only cause of the pain and sufferings in human life was nothing other than human desires and greed. Once one leaves these things behind, he/she could achieve peace in life with no more sufferings. The prince Siddhartha Gautam received Enlightenment (Buddhato), and spread his learning among others and thus was called “Buddha”, the enlightened one.
Buddhist Scriptures and Its Values
The Dhammapada is a versified Buddhist scripture traditionally ascribed to the Buddha himself. The title, Dhammapada, is a compound term composed of dhamma and pada, each word having a number of denotations and connotations. Generally, dhamma can refer to the Buddha’s “doctrine” or an “eternal truth” or “righteousness” or all “phenomena” and, at its root, pada means “foot” and thus by extension, especially in this context, means either “path” or “verse” or both. In another words, Dharma is spiritual living and pada means foot or way, so Dharma Pad is a way of living a spiritual life.
Tripitaka is a traditional term used to describe their various types of standard scriptures. Tripitak traditionally contains three baskets of teachings: a Sutra Pitika , a Vinaya Pitika and an Abhidharma Pitika. As it has three Pitika it is called Tripitaka.
Although Buddhists regard every full moon sacred, the moon of the month of Baisakh has special significance because on this day the Buddha was born, attained enlightenment (nirvana), and attained parinirvana (nirvana-after-death of the body) when he died.