Kuala Lumpur celebrates with a parade, Friday, May 5, the Vesak festival. This holiest day for millions of Buddhists corresponds to the date of birth of Buddha Siddhartha Gautama, more than 2,600 years ago, in the village of Lumbini, Nepal.
The Vesak feast is not fixed on a date of the Gregorian calendar. In France, it is celebrated on the day of the full moon in May, which corresponds approximately to that of Vaisakha, from which it takes its name, in the Indian lunisolar calendar. Elsewhere, dates vary according to country and tradition.
This celebration is part of the Theravada movement of Buddhism, whose followers mainly live in South and Southeast Asia. In addition to being the date of Buddha’s birth, it is also the day when he attained the state of enlightenment and then his death – or paranirvana – in his 80th year. This feast therefore commemorates the three essential stages in the life of the founder of one of the oldest religions in the world.
Lanterns and lights
The day is celebrated in all countries with a Buddhist tradition. It is even an official holiday in Nepal, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Hong Kong and Macau. Each of these countries practices different traditions. In Korea, lotus-shaped lanterns are hung in the streets and used to decorate temples.
In Sri Lanka, worshipers decorate the streets with lights as slaughterhouses and drinking establishments close for two days. In other countries, captive animals are set free, a symbol of the liberation brought by Buddha.
Japan celebrates this anniversary on April 8, during a festival called Hana matsuri, or Flower Festival. Temple visitors bring flowers and children pour sake on statuettes of the Child Buddha.
A holiday celebrated by the United Nations
The Vesak festival took on new importance in 1950, following the decision of the World Buddhist Organization to make it the festival of the Buddha at the international level in order to federate a religion marked by its extreme diversity.
This day was also the occasion of important political events. In 1952, separatists chose him to hoist the Buddhist flag on a temple in the city of Colombo, in what is now Sri Lanka, marking the affirmation of a nationalist and Buddhist current on this island.
Buddha’s birthday is the only celebration of religious origin celebrated by the United Nations since 1999, with the aim of “recognizing the contribution that Buddhism, one of the oldest religions in the world, has made for more than 2,500 years and continues to contribute to the spirituality of humanity”. In France, since 1997, a civil servant can also obtain a leave of absence on the occasion of the Vesak festival.