Buddha Purnima and Buddha Jayanthi are two different terms for the same happening, the birth anniversary of Lord Buddha. This auspicious day has several names for it. Beside Buddha Purnima and Buddha Jayanthi it is also called Saga Dawa, Vesak, Vaisakh Purnima, and many more names in different languages of the Asian countries. The celebration of this day falls usually on the full moon day in May. It is not only the day that Buddha’s birthday is commemorated, but also the day that he reached enlightenment and the day of 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. Even the U.N. decided to observe the day at its headquarters and offices around the wold from 1999.
There are two different kinds of Buddhism follower practitioners, the Mahayana Buddhists and the Theravada Buddhists. The Mahayana Buddhism is followed by the Tibetans, Indians, Nepalese and some more countries. Theravada has its main followers in Thailand and Myanmar. Both Mahayana and Theravada have some differences in dates and celebrations.
Differences in dates are common, for example due to which (Lunar) calendar is used in different countries. When we look at 2012, the day was observed on Apr 28 in Hong Kong and Taiwan. May 5 in Sri Lanka, May 6 in India, May 28 in South Korea and June 4 in Thailand.
Ways of observing
Buddha Purnima is observed all over Asia. The Buddhists in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Nepal, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Phillipines all have some kind of commemoration or celebration. There will be speeches from presidents and/or prime ministers. Monks will decorate the temples and monasteries. Bangles are sold and people won’t eat meat. Candles are lit and prayers about the 5 precepts to refrain from: harming living beings – taking what is not given – sexual misconduct – lying or gossip – taking intoxicating substances.
People wear white and a main thing to do is offering. Offering to monks, but also offering to the poor, to beggars, etc. In some of the countries, on Buddha Purnima, you’ll see observers freeing animals. Captured birds, fish and even rabbits will be bought from usually Hindus and Muslims to set them free. That the sellers, soon after selling, capture them again is a part of their karma. For the Buddhists it’s only important to set the animals free.
Bathing is important for both self as well as for statues. Putting plates with rice, food items and flowers in front of Buddha statues happens all over, as a symbolic offering. Giving donations and chanting. It’s all Part of this auspicious day called Buddha Purnima or one of the other names for it.
In Nepal the celebrations on this day of Buddha Purnima is happening at two places: Boudhanath Stupa and Swoyambhunath (Monkey Temple). Those two areas have the most Buddhists. Some of the Newars, Sherpas and Tibetans. All Buddhists living in other neighborhoods will certainly come to either of those two places, together with thousands of other interested people. The evening before the official full moon day is the big commemoration. So thousands of people walk kora’s (circles) around the stupa in Boudha.
Early evening people start walking and will continue the whole night. Most people stop after 108 kora’s or 113 kora’s. This takes easily 7 hours if you don’t take breaks. It is impossible to walk fast, because it is overcrowded. Beside the Thousands of walkers, there are hundreds of beggars who appreciate this day to the fullest, because they get the offerings from the Buddhists. Then there are the tables with butterlamps (candles). The whole happening is also the same around Monkeytemple. This special day and night with all those chanting people gives a special feeling and energy. Buddha Purnima is definitely a day to take into consideration to join.
An impression video can be seen here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76_gguLUpJo