Home Festival constitute Celebration of Buddha Purnima around the world: origin and differences

Celebration of Buddha Purnima around the world: origin and differences


Buddha Purnima is the main religious festival of the Buddhist community, observed on Baishakhi Purnima, the full moon day in Baishakh (mid-April to mid-May).

Three significant events in Buddha’s life are believed to have occurred on this day – his birth around 623 BC, his enlightenment (Nirvana) around 588 BC, and his death (Mahaparinirvana) around 543 BC.

This year, Buddha Purnima was celebrated on May 16. In order to better understand the significance and celebrations of the event, the scribe had a conversation with Md Abu Taher, a researcher in interfaith relations and a faculty of the Department of World Religions and Culture, University of Dhaka.

“Siddhartha Gautama, better known as Gautama Buddha, was the founder of Buddhism. His birthday is a holiday that is traditionally celebrated in many countries according to their own traditions,” Taher said.

Celebration across countries

Buddha Purnima is auspiciously celebrated in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

In Bangladesh, Buddhist monks and priests adorn the temple with colorful decorations and candles on this auspicious occasion.

In Cambodia, Buddha’s birthday is celebrated as Visak Bochea and is also a public holiday where monks carry flags, lotuses, incense and candles to commemorate the occasion across the country.

Known as Waisak, Buddha’s birthday is celebrated with a grand procession in Indonesia. It starts at Mendut in Java and ends at Borobudur, which is the largest Buddhist temple in the world.

The Japanese call the celebration Kanbutsu-e or Hanamatsuri and it is commemorated on April 8 because the birth of Buddha is noted according to the Buddhist calendar.

Buddha’s birthday, which is celebrated as Wesak Day in Malaysia, is also a public holiday. On the day, not only are temples decorated across the country, but there is also a ritual of releasing caged animals.

Celebrated as Ikh Duichen, Buddha’s birthday is determined by the country’s Mongolian lunar calendar.

People in North Korea honor Buddha’s birthday as a traditional holiday. Known as Chopail, it is a festival that celebrates the culture of the Buddhist people.

Celebrated according to the Korean lunar calendar, Buddha’s birthday is known as Seokga Tankini. For the occasion, people hang lotus lanterns in temples as well as in homes and streets.

Known as Visakha Puja, Buddha’s birthday is a public holiday in Thailand to commemorate the occasion. By day, people gather to hear sermons and donate.

Thus, despite the differences in rituals and practices, the joy and spirituality of the celebration are predominant in each country.

Belief also changes with geography

Interestingly, just like celebrations, Buddhist beliefs vary by country.

“Since the death of the Buddha in present-day India in the 5th century BC teaches, everything is subject to change,” says Mr Taher.

After 2500 years from Buddha’s death, three main schools can be discerned in Buddhism – Theravāda, Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna.

Sectarian differences began to develop very early within Buddhism, probably a few years after the death of the historical Buddha.

Theravada is considered the oldest form of Buddhism and adheres to the oldest recorded sayings of the Buddha, collectively referred to as the Pali Canon. Theravada recognizes the primacy and humanity of the historical Buddha. Its doctrines are drawn from the Pali Tipitaka or Pali Canon and its basic teachings begin with the Four Noble Truths.

It is the dominant form of Buddhism today in Sri Lanka as well as in Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. It claims about 100 million members worldwide.

Mahayana is important in East Asian countries. East Asian Buddhism or East Asian Mahayana is a collective term for the schools of Mahāyāna Buddhism that developed in East and Southeast Asia and follow the Chinese Buddhist canon. These include the various forms of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Singaporean and Vietnamese Buddhism.

Apart from being a major religion in these regions, it is also an important religion in Malaysia. East Asian Buddhists make up the largest number of Buddhist traditions in the world, numbering more than half of the world’s Buddhists.

Tantric Buddhism can be identified as a later evolution of Mahayana Buddhism. Its origins can also be traced to ancient Hindu and Vedic practices, including esoteric ritual texts designed to achieve physical, mental and spiritual breakthroughs.

Because some practices subverted traditional Buddhism and Hinduism, engaging in acts otherwise considered taboo, its practitioners were secretive. The initiates worked closely with a spiritual guide or guru.

Vajrayana Buddhism is most closely identified with Tibetan Buddhism, however, it has also influenced parts of Southeast Asia and East Asia.

The journey of Buddhism through India

Mr. Taher then explained the evolution and spread of Buddhism. He said Buddhism flourished in India for more than a millennium, reaching an expansive climax in the Pala period in eastern India.

By the 1100s CE, Buddhism had declined mainly due to Muslim incursions. Before that time, however, the Buddhist doctrine had been transmitted to Sri Lanka, which became another point of reference for the spread of Buddhism in Southeast Asia.

Travelers and missionaries carried the message of Buddhism by sea and land through Central Asia to China in the first century CE.

Throughout its history and transmission, Buddhism has adapted to local beliefs and customs, and the combination of these local forms with imported beliefs and symbols is a feature of Buddhist art throughout Asia. .

When asked if Buddhist minorities are safe and whether the Rohingya crisis has influenced their safety, Abu Taher claimed that the crisis is only based on economic and geopoetic issues and will not impact on the safety of Buddhists in another country.

He believes that the violence Buddhists faced in 2012 was an anomaly and that the government of Bangladesh has taken many measures to protect the safety of Buddhists.

Therefore, with spirituality in mind and bright hope in their eyes, Buddhists from all countries celebrated Buddha Purnima with grace and peace while others joined them in harmony.

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