If you search online for the date of Buddha’s birthday, you will get a different answer for different locations – this year it’s May 19 in Hong Kong and May 26 in Sri Lanka. And in Japan, people have already organized the festival on April 8th.
This holiday is intended to celebrate the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha. But since Buddhism spread from the Indian subcontinent over 2,000 years ago, there are now around 500 million Buddhists in the world. This means that there are many different lunar calendars and traditions that decide the date.
While there are similarities between the traditions of each country – flowers, candles, lanterns, and good deeds – each country has its own version of the holiday.
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The Japanese name for Buddha’s birthday means “flower festival.” It takes place at the same time as the cherry blossoms are blooming, as the flowers play an important role in the celebration of the day.
The people of Tokyo celebrate the birthday of Buddha.
In the temples, people pour out ama-cha, a sweet tea made with flowers, on statues of Buddha, and they drape lotuses around his neck. It symbolizes how flowers and water fell from the sky (according to the stories) when Buddha was born.
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South Korea: Seokga tansinil
Lanterns are one of the main features of the South Korean version of the holiday. As early as a month in advance, people hang brightly colored lotus-shaped lanterns in all temples and streets. For a small donation, people can hang their own lanterns in the temple with their name and a wish.
Artists from Seoul, South Korea, participate in a lantern festival for Buddha’s birthday.
An annual parade shows lanterns in the shape of magnificent dragons and replicas of Buddha.
Aside from the lanterns, many temples offer free meals, such as a rice dish with many different vegetables known as bibimbap. Traditional games, mask dances and acrobatic shows also take place outside the temples.
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Thailand: Visakha Puja
Thai traditions revolve mainly around temples, where Buddhists gather to listen to sermons and sing prayers. They bring donated food, flowers and candles, which symbolizes the importance of letting go of material things.
For Thais, Buddha’s birthday is a day to let go of material things.
At night, worshipers hold candles, flowers, and incense as they walk through the temple. Many people also release pet birds or fish, believing that this will cleanse their souls of anything they have done wrong.
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Indonesia has the largest Buddhist temple in the world, Borobudur. On the same day, people take part in a huge procession that begins at Mendut Temple, the oldest Buddhist temple in the country, and ends in Borobudur.
Indonesians drop lanterns at the end of the day’s celebrations.
Before going to the temple, some people also clean their Buddha statues, visit the elderly, and donate to the needy.
At night, they drop lanterns in the sky and light candles.
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Sri Lanka: Vesak
Vesak usually lasts a week. In addition to prayers in temples, people will also create pandols, large luminous representations of the life of Buddha. The houses and streets are decorated with candles and colorful lanterns.
Celebrations in Sri Lanka can last a week.
Everywhere, people – families, restaurants, who can afford it – are setting up stands called dansalas who offer free food and drink. Since there should be no deaths during the celebrations, all places where animals are killed for meat must close.
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Nepal: Buddha Purnima or Buddha Jayanthi
It is believed that Buddha was born in Lumbini province in Nepal. To celebrate, people light candles and offer prayers in temples.
Buddha’s birthday is a time for Nepalese to practice kindness to all sentient beings. In the photo, a Buddhist mandala made of colored sand.
To practice kindness to all living beings, people will not eat meat and donate to the poor.
Volunteers distribute a dessert known as kheer, a sweet rice pudding that symbolizes what was offered to Buddha when he fasted.