Buddha Purnima and Buddha Jayanthi are two different terms for the same happening. This auspicious day has several names for it. Beside Buddha Purnima and Buddha Jayanthi it is also called Saga Dawa, Vesak, Vaisakh Purnima, etc. Depending on the Asian countries and its languages. The celebration of this day falls on the full moon day in May. It’s the day that Buddha’s birthday is commemorated and the day that he reached enlightenment and his passing away.
It was on a Buddhist conference in Sri Lanka in 1950 that this day became officially a public holiday and anniversary day. The U.N. decided to observe this Buddha day at its headquarters and offices around the world since 1999.
There are different lineages of Buddhist practitioners. Mahayana Buddhists and Theravada Buddhists to name some. Mahayana Buddhism is followed by the Tibetans, Indians, Nepalese and some other countries. Theravada has its main followers in Thailand and Myanmar. Mahayana and Theravada have some differences in dates, celebrations and also in the way of practicing. Differences in dates occur due to which (Lunar) calendar is used in the different countries. When we look at 2012, the day was observed on Apr 28 in Hong Kong and Taiwan. May 5 in Sri Lanka and May 6 in India. May 28 in South Korea and June 4 in Thailand.
Ways of observing
Buddha Purnima is observed all over Asia. Buddhists from Cambodia, India, Nepal, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam and others having some kind of commemoration or celebration. There will be speeches from leaders and monks will decorate the temples and monasteries. Bangles are sold and people won’t eat meat. Candles are lit and prayers and chants can be heard all over the place.
People wear often white and important to do is offering to monks, the poor, beggars and even animals. In some of the countries on Buddha Purnima you’ll see observers freeing animals. Caged birds, fish and even rabbits will be bought from Hindus or Muslims around to set them free. That the sellers soon after selling capture them again is part of the show. For the Buddhists counts only to set the animals free for their karma. Bathing or washing is important for people and for statues and putting plates with rice and food items by Buddha statues as a symbolic offering is another ritual. Giving donations and burning incense is all Part of this auspicious day called Buddha Purnima.
In Nepal the celebrations on this day of Buddha Purnima is happening at two places: Boudhanath Stupa and Swoyambhunath (Monkey Temple). In those two areas living the most Buddhists of which one of the Newar caste, Sherpas and Tibetans. All Buddhists living in other neighborhoods will join at either of those two places with thousands of other interested people. The evening before the official full moon day is the big commemoration, therefore thousands of people walk kora’s (circles) around the Stupa’s.
People start walking early evening and will continue the whole night and even the following day. Most people stop after 108 kora’s or 113 kora’s. This takes easily 7 hours if you don’t take breaks. It’s impossible to walk fast because it’s overcrowded. Beside the Thousands of walkers there are hundreds of beggars who appreciate this day to the fullest as they get the offerings from the Buddhists. Then there are the tables with butter lamps (candles) too. The whole happening is similar around Monkeytemple where this special day and night with all those chanting people give a special feeling and energy. Buddha Purnima is definitely a day of a new and special experience which you shouldn’t miss out on.