Buddha Purnima is an important Buddhist and Hindu festival marking the birth anniversary of Gautam Buddha, an ascetic and spiritual teacher from South Asia revered by Buddhists as the creator of Buddhism and an Enlightened being whose teachings sought to free people from ignorance, craving, rebirth, and pain.
Date and Time
Buddha Purnima happens on the Purnima Tithi of the Hindu calendar’s Vaishaka month. According to Drik Panchang, Purnima Tithi will begin at 12:45 PM on May 15 and go until 9:43 AM on May 16.
History and Significance
In the year 536 B.C., Gautam Buddha was born as Siddhartha Gautam, a prince in Lumbini, Nepal. Gautam gave up his worldly attachments and decided to pursue his spiritual quest. He obtained enlightenment while meditating in Bodh Gaya under the Bodhi tree. Buddhism is a religion founded on Gautam Buddha’s beliefs and teachings, and thus his birth anniversary is celebrated across the world as an auspicious occasion. According to Hindu beliefs, Gautam Buddha is Lord Vishnu’s ninth avatar, so his birthday is significant for Hindus as well.
“Every full moon day is an auspicious day for Buddhists,” according to the British Library blog, “but the most important of all is the day of the full moon in May because three crucial events in the life of the Gautama Buddha occurred on this day.” On the full moon day in May, Prince Siddhattha, the Buddha-to-be, was born at Lumbini Grove. Second, he obtained enlightenment under the shadow of the Bodhi tree and became Gautama Buddha at Bodh Gaya on the full moon day after six years of struggle. Finally, at the age of eighty, he obtained nirvana at Kusinara, the cessation of all desire, after 45 years of teaching the truth.
Although Buddha’s disciples never formally celebrated his birthday, they did hold celebrations in his honor for many decades. In truth, Buddha Purnima was not formally observed until the twentieth century. Buddha Purnima was only officiated as a Vesak festival in May 1950 at the first assembly of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Because Buddha attained nirvana on a full moon day, it was decided that the day of the full moon in May would be auspicious.
Buddhism’s popularity grew due to its teachings of nonviolence, respect for life, and a more equitable approach to women’s roles, all of which were in accord with both tradition and modern conceptions of development. As a result, many countries worldwide, particularly in Asia, became primarily Buddhist. Buddhism split into sub-sects as each culture adopted and integrated the core precepts. Buddhism is now followed in many forms worldwide, and it is particularly inclusive because it does not worship any gods (as other religions do). Buddhism’s philosophical bent has made it popular among many people.
Buddha devotees go to temples, light candles, incense sticks, pray, and offer sweets and fruits to the Lord Buddha statue. Followers from all across the world attend sermons on Buddha’s life and teachings. People traditionally wear white, avoid eating non-vegetarian food, and distribute kheer, as a woman named Sujata is said to have offered Buddha a bowl of milk porridge on this day.
On this day, many followers release imprisoned birds as a symbol of empathy and compassion for all living beings, which is one of Lord Buddha’s most fundamental teachings. Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, a famous Buddhist pilgrimage destination where Buddha is claimed to have delivered his first sermon, hosts a huge fair. In Japan, statues of Buddha are decorated with flowers and bathed with a special flower juice. In South Korea, people celebrate by giving free food. Thus, all across Asia, the day is celebrated around practicing the teachings of Buddha.
The Buddhist communities all across the world have called for world peace amid war escalations and growing inflation.