Buddha Poornima: An Ode to Lord Buddha

May/15/2022 / by Rashmi Gopal Rao
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It is often said that Buddhism is not a religion but more of a philosophy, a spiritual tradition and a way of life.  One of the oldest and largest religions of the world, Buddhism is based on the original teachings of Gautama Buddha who was born in India as Siddhartha Gautama.  Buddhism which originated in India between 563–483 B.C.E spread to Asia and eventually the rest of the world.  According to Buddhism, human life is a cycle of suffering and rebirth and one can attain liberty from the same by attaining enlightenment or Nirvana.  Buddha also taught the four noble truths which elucidates that the cause of all suffering is desire and that suffering can be ended by achieving Nirvana by following the Middle Path. Mahayana Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism are the two main groups of Buddhism. While the former is common in China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan the latter is prevalent in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand and Burma.  

Buddha Jayanti: a significant day

Also called Buddha Jayanti, Buddha Poornima is one of the most auspicious days for Buddhists and is considered to an extremely important day.  It celebrates the birth anniversary of Lord Buddha and Buddha Poornima which falls on May 16th this year, marks the 2584th birthday of the Lord who is considered as the 9th avatar of Lord Vishnu.  It is celebrated on the full moon day aka Poornima in the Hindu month of Vaisakh (which usually falls in April or May).  According to Buddhist tradition, every full moon day is significant but the full moon of Vaisakh is considered extremely sacred as it was on this day that three major events of Lord Buddha’s life took place.  The first was his birth as Prince Siddhartha in Lumbini Grove, Nepal, the second was his enlightenment in Bodh Gaya in Bihar and finally the day he left for heavenly abode in Kushinagar located in Uttar Pradesh.  

Rituals and celebrations galore

Also known as “Vesak”, Buddha Poornima is celebrated by Buddhists all over the world.  Buddhist communities, monasteries and temples organize chanting, prayer and meditation sessions.  Devotees visit Buddhist shrines, read Buddhist scriptures and reminisce his teachings and sermons.  Flowers, candles and incense sticks are offered to the shrines of Lord Buddha and religious songs and hymns are sung.

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It is customary to wear white clothes on this day and people distribute ‘kheer’ or sweetened rice pudding to each other and abstain from consuming non-vegetarian food. It is also considered holy to take a dip in the Ganga on this day apart from offering money, gifts and food to the poor and the needy.  Devotees also worship the Bodhi tree and offer water to its roots.  The Dharma Chakra or Dharma wheel which is a wooden wheel with eight spokes is a common symbol during Vesak.  This wheel is symbolic of Buddha’s famous noble eight-fold path.  

Key sites around the world

There are several holy Buddhist sites all over the world with many of them situated in Asia.   Lumbini in Nepal where Lord Buddha was born is extremely significant and has a number of monasteries.  It is known for its sacred Bodhi tree, Mayadevi temple and Ashoka pillar.  With the mighty Himalayas as the backdrop, this one is an extremely scenic place too.  Gaya in Bihar where Buddha attained enlightenment has the magnificent Mahabodhi temple which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It houses the Mahabodhi Stupa, an 80-foot Buddha statue, a lotus pond, a meditation garden and several monasteries. Sarnath near Varanasi as well as Kushinagar both in Uttar Pradesh are sites of significance as it was here that both gave his first sermon and left his physical body respectively.  Apart from this, India is home to a number of monasteries which are holy Buddhist sites.  The Tawang monastery in Arunachal Pradesh is the largest in India while the Key Monastery and Dalai Lama temple complex, both in Himachal Pradesh are truly noteworthy.  Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh have a number of Buddhist sites too.  The Namdroling Monastery in Coorg in Karnataka is nothing short of spectacular.  If you are a fan of history, the stupendous Ajanta caves is an important site which depicts the culture and stories of Buddhism in India.  Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Tibet are yet other places that have key sites dedicated to Lord Buddha whose teachings related to peace, love and tolerance, are totally relevant and have a timeless appeal even today.

All images courtesy of author