Buddhism might not be as old as other religions, but is definitely the most popular. This is because of its teachings that have transformed the thinking and living of many. Many argue that Buddhism is not even a religion, but a set of teachings that an enlightened prince called Siddhartha gave. Buddha Jayanti celebrates the birth, enlightenment and salvation of this prince. It was his simplicity and love for others that captured the faith of everyone's life that he, and later his teachings, touched. In today's time, when man's faith on mysticism is in question, he bends his faith towards that of a human teaching. Although many believe that Buddha was a God, some believe he was an avatar of Vishnu (the supreme God in Hinduism). God or not, Lord Buddha is kept in the same pedestal by his followers.
Around 500 B.C., King Shuddhodhana and Queen Mayadevi had a son named Siddharta. It is believed that the pundits (bramhin priests) prophesied that the prince will be disenchanted by the tragedies and sorrow of the world. Whereby, he will forsake everything and go in search of the 'true wisdom'. Because of this prophesy, the king had kept the prince trapped in the four walls of the palace. In the palace, the prince was given all luxuries and comforts that one can need till 29 years of age. Then one day he convinced his charioteer to take him beyond the walls. When he went out, he was flabbergasted by the tyranny that humankind faced. He was so disturbed that he left his family and all comforts to seek the meaning of life. Years later he had finally found what he sought. It is believed that beneath a Bodhi-tree at Bodh Gaya he received his enlightenment. He formulated his teachings and eventually had hundreds of believers following them. After the age of eighty, he was said to have attained 'nirvana' in his demise. The three major events of his life: birth, enlightenment and demise, occurred on a full moon night. This night is known as the Vaisaka Purnima or simply Buddha Jayanti.
Celebrations & Rituals
Buddha Jayanti is celebrated on the full moon night in the month of vaisaka (according to the Indian/Hindu calendar). It falls mostly in the month of May or April in the western calendar. As any other festival in Asia, this day too is celebrated with worshipping the figure of Lord Buddha. On the day of the festival, the monasteries are full of worshippers. Monks and followers read the Holy Scriptures through the day. People in large number parade the streets chanting prayers. Buddhists decorate their houses with lights, candles and diyas. They also put yellow, white, red and blue flags on their roofs. Candles, flowers and fruits with incense are offered to the statue of Gautam Buddha. The Mahabodhi tree, also known as the "pipal-tree" or the sacred fig tree is worshipped and offered offerings to. This is known to be the tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment. Conventionally, Buddhists are pure vegetarians. Those who are non-vegetarians do not take meat on this day. Kheer, a sweet-dish, is prepared at homes. Freeing of birds from cages is also a practice followed many places.
Buddha Jayanti is celebrated throughout the world, but most dominantly in the South-Asian countries. In India, Sarnath, Bodh Gaya, Saanchi and Khushinagar are the most important places of celebrations in Buddha Purnima. The festival at Sarnath attracts large number of devotees who flock to this temple and perform important religious activities. Prayers, sermons and recitation of Buddhist scriptures are a part of the occasion. Lumbini in Rupandehi district is considered to be the birth place of Lord Buddha. On the special occasion a big fair is held for celebration.
Buddha Purnima celebratrion in Bodh Gaya in India attracts pilgrims from all over the world every year.