Wesak Day in Asia – Significance and Celebration!
- A Brief Into The Purpose
- When It Is Celebrated
- Sri Lanka
- Rules To Follow
Wesak is an annual festival celebrated on different days by different names in the different South Asian countries(not Islamic dominated ones). The significance of this festival is to mark the birth of Gautam Buddha.
A brief into the purpose of Wesak
He was born as Siddhartha, heir to king Suddhodana from his wife and queen Maya. As the legend goes his mother had a dream when conceiving him that a strange white elephant came into her womb. Dream interpretation was common those days and the sages with great anxiety marked the birth of a great person who will show humanity a new path. He was born in Lumbini, Nepal in a beautiful garden away from the royal palace. Physiognomy was prevalent those days and sages visited the royal mansion to foresee the future of the little prince. 32 holy signs were found on his body which suggested that he was destined on earth with a noble purpose and that he would free humanity from sufferings. He is also considered as the reincarnation of the great lord Vishnu.
Vishnu Avataras in Hinduism had an evolutionary meaning although:
- Matsya – Matsya avatar is indicative of the fish, the first class of vertebrates; evolved in water(Indicates origin of Fishes in Silurian Period)
- Kurma – Tortoise which is amphibious (living in both water and land; but not to confuse with the vertebrate class amphibians)(Indicates origin of Amphibians in Devonian Period)
- Varaha – Boar like mammals, wild land animals (Indicates Mammals origin in Triassic Period)
- Narasimha – This indicates beings that are half-animal and half-human (indicative of emergence of human thoughts and intelligence in powerful wild nature) .
- Vamana – Vamanas are short, premature human beings.
- Parasurama – He is indicative of early humans living in forests and using weapons.
- Rama – Lord Rama indicates humans living in the community, beginning of civil society.
- Krishna – Lord Krishna indicates humans practicing animal husbandry and politically advanced societies.
- Buddha – Buddha indicates humans finding enlightenment.
- Kalki – advanced humans with great powers of destruction.
Through the dashavataras of Hinduism the Hindu scriptures show a gradual evolution of beings on earth under one supremacy .ie. Vishnu or Advaitya.
Looking on to Buddhist stories and scriptures anyone would say that those are stories for kids perhaps but on close observation it can be realized how well coded they are. The original message in these old religions like Hinduism and Buddhism are well hidden under the context of stories. As like 10 avataras of Lord Vishnu actually show a gradual evolution of beings where Buddha is shown as the stage of humans who strive for finding enlightenment. Buddha was a great person who bought into practice meditation, healing using chakras and unleash the potential of human mind. There are a lot many things that Buddha gave humanity which cannot be less said upon. If you know any Buddhists you will know that they eat vegan food, are highly efficient in whatever they do and yet have far less worries and sorrows than anyone else.
Wesak is marked as the day when Buddha was born, attained enlightenment and was liberated from the cycle of life and death.
Full moon in the month of Vaisakha marks this holy festival. Wesak is a literal transformation from the Sanskrit word Vaisakha. Vaisakha is a month according to lunisolar calendar prevalent during the 5th and 6th century BC in regions of India and Nepal. However, this lunisolar calendar is still prevalent in many parts of South Asia.
On this full moon day of the month of Vaisakha Gautam Buddha was born to his mother Maya in a beautiful Garden of Lumbini.
Hindus mark this day important as the birth of their 9th avatar of Lord Vishnu. Also this day only Gautam buddha renounced his royal palace, position as a king, his wife, son and parents in search of liberation. Wesak is the day when Gautam Buddha was enlightened on meditation under the Bodhi tree and on this day only he left his mortal body and is liberated forever.
When is it celebrated?
Wesak is celebrated as in accordance with the lunisolar calendar. Full moon in that month does not always occur at the same time in all the countries due to longitudinal differences and thus it is celebrated in different days in different countries at different times.
Which Asian Countries Celebrate Wesak Day?
- Cambodia – Vesak Bochea
- Laos – Vixakha Bouxa
- Thailand – Visakha Bucha
- Malaysia – Hari Wesak
- Singapore – Vesak Day
- Nepal – Buddha Jayanti
- Japan – Hanamatsuri
- Korea: Seokka Tanshin-il
- Indonesia – Waisak
- Bangladesh – Bud-dho Joyonti
- Vietnam: Phat Dan
Wesak celebration in different countries
This is the kingdom of Gautama Buddha when he was a prince before renouncing his materialistic and family oriented life. It is recognized by UNESCO and thus a very important place in context of Buddhism.
How to go
Tribhuvan International airport is closest international airport to Kapilavastu but you can connect flight after you reach there from Tribhuvan international airport to Bhairawa Airport(also known as Gautam Buddha airport). From Gautam Buddha airport you can easily get a prepaid cab to Tilaurakot’s ruins and sites of the ancient city.
This is the beautiful garden where Gautam Buddha was born. Same way as in case of Kapilavastu your goal must meet Gautam Buddha airport. Cabs are easily available here and you can visit the Lumbini heritage site easily staying at the Buddha Maya Garden Hotel. You can book your rooms online too.
This is the place where Gautama Buddha had attained enlightenment under the bodhi tree which is still there in good health. This is the center of Buddhist world.
How to go?
The nearest airport is at Gaya which is 17 km from the site; Druk Air flies from Bangkok once a week. Thai Airways flies to Gaya airport daily. Indian Airlines flies from Kolkata on Fridays at 10 AM and Returns back on Mondays from Gaya at around 3 PM. Air India and Indigo also flies from New Delhi(the capital of India) via Varanasi every day. You can get a cab easily using “OLA” app to reach the desired motel you will be planning your stay in.
Where to stay?
You can easily get a motel room from http://www.yatra.com/hotels/hotels-in-bodhgaya where you can book a room using the check-in and check-out dates, making the payment online and keep a hard copy of the receipt and booking confirmation. This way is best for international tourists as it prevents you from getting cheated. Hotel Buddha international, Welcome guest house and hotel shiva are the places nearest to the Mahabodhi temple and the heritage site.
A slow walk of 8 minutes or you can ask the locals about directions or simply follow the crowd who has cams in hand. The Mahabodhi temple is the main attraction here along with the barbar caves which are rock-cut caves dating back to the time of Maurya emperors which they decorated with great passion.
One thing that is a must visit is the Bodhigaya Multimedia museum. Archeological survey of India tickets are necessary to be allowed to visit these places. These tickets are available just outside the temple boundary. In these tickets, you will get detailed information about places to visit.
Buddhist Vihara at Sanchi
Located in the state of Madhya Pradesh is a great place to visit and see the famous Sanchi Stupa constructed by Asoka the great. Asoka also like Gautama Buddha renounced his worldly desires and followed the path of Buddha. Mightiest king in the history of India, Asoka won any battle he fought. He conquered many lands. The destruction in the war of Kalinga left him shattered from inside. Streams of blood and cry of widows and orphans disturbed him so much that he gave up his sword. After giving up his sword he became a Buddhist and being a king all he did was welfare of his people. Still known as Asoka the great and his lion mark on the iron pillar is used in Indian currency and Asoka Chakra can be seen in the middle of Indian National Flag.
How to go?
Sanchi is 46 km from Bhopal airport, which is very well connected to the rest of India and thus the world. Your own vehicle is not required as such, as any buses going to Ashta from Bhopal can drop you within half a kilometer of the village or you can hire a cab easily. Everything, including the site and the lodging facilities, is within 1 kilometer. Also, Sanchi railway station is very close to the village but I would suggest you to not take the train. Sanchi stupa dates back to 3rd century AD and is carved out of a single rock. This entire structure shows Buddhist architecture and the inscriptions are wonderful as a 2000-year-old. The archeological museum showcases beautiful sculptures and tools used in that era.
Where to stay
You can plan your stay there using http://www.yatra.com/hotels/hotels-in-sanchi . However, hotel Sambodhi is nearest to the site.
Sarnath is a place known as Isipatana in earlier days where Buddha went and preached his first sermon 7 days after he attained enlightenment. Four noble truths, middle path and eightfold path were preached by him as basics. Several other suttas were also preached by him. Having complete knowledge of the Vedas Buddha attained enlightenment and to some extent decoded the mystery of Vedas in his suttas. The deer park here is famous as it was here that Buddha first taught Dharma. Great importance to Buddhists all over the world it was here that asoka constructed a pillar that was broken during Turkish invasions but its base still stands.
How to go?
Varanasi Airport better known by codes as IATA: VNS; Varanasi airport, 24 km from Sarnath is the nearest airport. The town is easily reached by a cab or the Indian jerky auto rickshaw from Varanasi. If you have tons of luggage though, go with the cab — it won’t fit in the rickshaw. “OLA” is thus a better alternative in this case.
Where to stay?
The best place to stay is Raj Shanti Guest House near Tibetan University (Way to Sarnath), Ph: +91 9454894409,+91 9616379586 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Ii is cheap and spartan, but with great family hospitality. It charges around Rs 500 per night, there is a fair possibility of eating breakfast and lunch with the family with the Buddhist guests passing by. You can also check the Golden Buddha Hotel, Sarangnath Colony, Ph: +91-993-503-9368. It is probably the best hotel in town. It offers such facilities as Ayurvedic massage, restaurant serving fresh Indian dishes, peaceful lawn, and an outdoor hot tub. There are special rates for backpacking groups. It is in walking distance from the main temple. The hotel can arrange a taxi to pick you up from the train station or airport for Rs 400 -1200.
The Sigiriya temple- In Buddhist mythology, Alakamanda is the beautiful and prosperous city of the gods. It is said to exist in a faraway place at a great height. Its ruler is Kuvera, the god of wealth and prosperity. From this legend, king Kasyapa gained inspiration and fled into the deep jungles known as Sigiriya today to transform the majestically rising 200m high rock into white to make it look like a cloud. In around 13-14th century AD Sigiriya was transformed into a Buddhist temple.
Pidurangala rock temple (Sigiriya): It is a huge rock north of Sigiriya. Formed mainly by volcanic activity. This place was occupied for 2300 years by monks who lived in caves here.
Ramakele Stupa: Relics and a treasure house built but king Kashapa 1. Although now it stands there plundered and looted by treasure hunters.
How to go?
You can reach Sigiriya domestic airport via Colombo international airport.
Where to stay?
There are many motels available for stay around Sigiriya. Namely hotel Sigiriya, Kalum homestay, Sigiriya Amenity homestay, Sigiriya Camelia homestay, Sigiriya Paradise Inn etc. You can book these beforehand for less hassles for an ensured stay.
Golden temple at Dambulla
Magnificent golden caves. The complex of 5 caves with all historical accounts encrypted on the walls and paintings of a different era .ie. 1st century BC.
How to reach?
You can take a cab from Colombo to Dambulla. Hotel Eden garden, Phelwehera Village resort and Argo eco hotel are the ones nearest to the Dambulla caves. You can do a spot booking when you reach there or book a room online.
This has been a hub of Theravada Buddhism for many centuries. Temples here include Jaya Sri Maha Bodhin Mahanse, Abhayagiri Dagoba and Isurumuniya.
How to go?
To reach Anuradhapura you can take a cab from Colombo airport or a bus is better perhaps. Anuradhapura has plenty many places to stay at but Avasta Resort and Spa being the best. You can book your room online.
Where to stay?
My suggestion would be to stay at this Anuradhapura hotel and roam around all the Sri Lankan sites as it is centrally located.
— Nepal, India and Sri Lanka are the most important as these regions are personally linked to buddha and the preaching during the earliest days start here. —
A gilded stupa located in Yangon is the most beautiful piece of work that you will ever see. According to legend, the Shwedagon Pagoda was constructed around 600 BC. Thus it is the oldest Buddhist stupa in the world. As per the traditions, Bhallika and Taphussa — two merchant brothers from the city of Balkh( current day Afghanistan) — met the Lord Gautama Buddha during his lifetime and received eight of his hairs. The brothers traveled to Myanmar and, with the help of the local ruler King Okkalapa, found Singuttara Hill, where relics of the other Buddhas before Gautama Buddha had been enshrined. When the king opened the golden casket in which the brothers had carried the hairs, incredible things happened:
“There was a tumult among men and spirits … rays emitted by the Hairs penetrated up to the heavens above and down to hell … the blind beheld objects … the deaf heard sounds … the dumb spoke distinctly … the earth quaked … the winds of the ocean blew … Mount Meru shook … lightning flashed … gems rained down until they were knee deep … all trees of the Himalayas, though not in season, bore blossoms and fruit.”
How to go?
You can travel to Yangon international airport via connecting from Bangkok.
Where to stay?
Summit Parkview and Tharabar gate the nearest motels to the Pagoda.
Yonghe Lama Temple and Temple of Heaven in Beijing are the most exquisite places to be in for Wesak. Cab facilities are awesome in Beijing and best motel nearest to the temple of heaven is Beijing The temple of Heaven. You can take a cab to Younghe lama temple from there.
Buddhist Maha Vihara and Burmese Buddhist temples are the most significant ones in Malaysia.
Where to stay?
Dau pagoda is the oldest documented Buddhist pagoda in Vietnam. With Luy Lâu being an entrepot between China and India, Dâu Pagoda was the stopping point for both Northern (Mahayana) and Southern (Theravada) Buddhist pilgrims and monks.
How to go?
Nearest airport is Noi Bai international airport from where you can get an easy cab to Dau pagoda.
Where to stay?
It is the major Buddhist temple in Cambodia. It is the largest religious monument in the world, with a land measurement of 402 acres. Khmer empire made it as a Hindu temple. Later it was converted to a Buddhist temple. It was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in the capital Yaśodharapura as a state temple. Khmer dynasty was worshipper of Shiva. This temple for the first time was dedicated to Lord Vishnu. By 1280 AD, Angkor Wat gradually transformed to Buddhism worship, as buddha was regarded the 9th avatar of Vishnu which continues to the present day.
How to go?
Seam Rip International airport is nearest to Angkor Wat.
Where to stay?
It is the most important Buddhist temple in Indonesia located in Java literally meaning city of Buddhas. This temple is a huge mystery and reason behind its construction in any historical accounts lay missing. This place had been abandoned for a long time due to as it was not recognizable under the volcanic ash and jungles that grew over time.
How to go?
Yogyakarta international airport is nearest and public buses from the airport to Borobudur are frequent.
Where to stay?
The Buddhist temple here had been existing at the site of Wat Arun since the time of the Ayutthayas. It was then known as Wat Makok, after the name of the village Bang Makok in which it was located. This place is easily accessible from Bangkok and you can plan your stay at Bangkok which we all know is pretty easy. The central prang symbolizes Mount Meru of the Hindu cosmology. The satellite prang are devoted to the wind god, Phra Phai. There you can see a variety of idols including those of demons at the entrance which are mostly reptilian and are named yaksha .ie. protectors of wealth. A symbolic and idol representation of Hindu epics such as Ramayana can also be found here.
Pha That Luang
In Laos the most important structure for pilgrimage is Pha That Luang in Vientiane city. Pha That Luang; according to the people of Laos was originally built as a Hindu temple in the 3rd century AD. Buddhist missionaries from the Mauryan Empire are believed to have been sent by the Emperor Asoka, including Bury Chan or Praya Chanthabury Pasithisak and five Arahata monks who brought a holy relic (believed to be the breastbone) of Lord Buddha to the stupa. It was built again in the 13th century as a Khmer temple which later again fell into ruin.
How to go?
The nearest airport to Great Sacred Stupa is Wattay airport , Vientiane which is 5 km away from Great Sacred Stupa.
Where to stay?
From the airport you can easily spot a motel around. Best motel is Sanjiang grand motel, however you find plenty other motels around to stay. Quality might be a little different in terms of services etc.
Todaji is the most exquisite place you can visit in Japan for Wesak. This was a temple constructed to get rid of sufferings of the royal family and many more political reasons.
How to go and where to stay?
Some rules to follow during Wesak
Although tourists are treated with great hospitality and a really warm welcome but you know that when in Rome do the Romans.
Likewise when around any of these Buddhist places never ask for meat, fish or any animal based product for food. Vegan food is a specialty of Buddhist cuisine.
It is very healthy and clean as it does not involve any animal parts that require sterilization.
If you stick to the Buddhist vegan cuisine there is a very little probability that you might fall sick or otherwise as Buddhist vegan cuisine is very healthy.
When inside the temple sanctum make sure you do not have any leather-based objects be it shoes or belt or a jacket maybe. Simple comfortable cotton clothes are favorable and if required open the hanger of your cams.
It is a rule to enter the temple without shoes. You will find places outside the temple which keep shoes and give you a token of the shoe rack. Keep that safely with you as you would require it to get back your shoes. Keeping your shoes in paid shoe rack is safer than keeping them anywhere just like that.
Roads and thieves
If possible don’t let anyone your cams to click the pictures. Keep all your things, such as keys with yourself. Always beware of thieves and crooked people. In India and other South Asian countries please take an advance care on roads. You might find livestock in the middle of roads but it is the way there, you can’t complain. People there are habituated with that.
Any other thing you better to know
If you choose to eat any place except the vegan eateries then I must say keep diarrhea pills with you. In Nepal you can try foods like “Thuppa” and “Momo”. India is famous for its vegan cuisine but also has nice non-vegan varieties which are very spicy and if they spot you as a tourist they will make it less spicy. If you are attending Wesak I would say you rather stick with the vegan Buddhist cuisine.
Don’t carry snacks or any food items inside the temple sanctum. When in China make sure you don’t have “4” printed anywhere on you may it be your shirt or bag or anything else. Feng Shui principles are very popular there and you might find Laughing Buddha statues and wind chymes being sold but if you bring those things to your abode then place them in the position of your home with the suggestions of a feng shui expert. Laughing Buddha if placed in the correct position of your home can bring you immense wealth and happiness. Wind chymes likewise destroy negative energies.
Around the temples in India you will find small buddha idols being sold. Those are great things to keep in your home as a remembrance of your trip. Indian traditional jewellery like earrings and necklaces of women made of oxidised metal and clay can also be found which are a great asset and you will find those designs only in India.
When you go to Sri Lanka don’t forget to get a kanjivaram saree. Quite unique and elegant sarees manufactured by south India and Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s cuisine has much of coconut and sweetness in it. Sea food is also abundant in Sri Lanka which will melt in your mouth.
Let’s say some final words about Wesak Festival
Wesak is a soulful festival. You would find that in some parts of the world it being celebrated with great enthusiasm but in reality and according to the customs meditating, feeling your own mind and a better strive to understand the eight fold path is just enough. Although the hymns and prayer sessions during Wesak in different temples listed here are great ways to open the windows of your soul and let some fresh air in. In such peaceful surroundings make sure that you don’t yell or fight or disrupt the peace of the place in any way. Evening lights and the oil lamps is the cherry on top of the cake. Make sure you behave well with the locals as the people are very warm and helpful. Buddhists are the most peaceful and calm people you can ever witness. Take a break and know their secrets of staying calm and peaceful; enjoy wesak if you want to witness the culture better.