FACTS & FIGURES
Time of the year - April/May
Also known as Buddha Jayanti. This is the main religious festival of the Buddhist community, observed on Baishakhi purnima, the day of the full moon in Baishakh (mid-April to mid-May). Three important events in the life of Buddha are believed to have occurred on this day: his birth in 623 BC, his gaining enlightenment in 588 BC, and his death in 543 BC. According to Buddhist tradition, Buddha, after his previous incarnation as Santos Kumar, was living in paradise.
He was asked by the gods to take rebirth as a human being for the salvation of the world and to show human beings as well as the gods the road to bliss. He considered the gods' request and, on the day of the full moon in Asadh (mid-June-mid-July), he entered his mother's womb through a dream.
Buddha Purnima is the most sacred day in the Buddhist calendar. It is the most important festival of the Buddhists, and is celebrated with great enthusiasm. Although Buddhists regard every full moon as sacred, the moon of the month of Vaisakh (April - May) has special significance because on this day the Buddha was born, attained enlightenment, and attained Nirvana when he died. This strange, three - fold coincidence, gives Buddha Purnima its unique significance.
Whereas followers of others religions observe the births, deaths, and other important occasions in the lives of their founders, for Buddhists all these events are combined in one on the full moon day in Vaisakh. On this day they baths and wear only white clothes. They gather in their viharas for worship and give alms to monks. Many spend their entire day at the vihara listening to discourses on the life and teaching of the Buddha or invite monks to their homes to speak to them. They reaffirm their faith in the five principles (Panch Sheel) - not to take life, not to steal, not to die, not to imbibe liquor or other intoxicants and not to commit adultery.
On Buddha Purnima Buddhists refrain from eating meat and eat kheer which they share with the poor. They set up stalls in public places which provide clean drinking water. Their special forms of charity include kindness to animals : they buy caged birds and set them free and pay butchers to let go animals meant for slaughter.
Just as in some homes paper lanterns are hung on Diwali, on Buddha Purnima Buddhists make Vaisakh Vakats out of bamboo, festoon them with starts and decorate their houses with them. Some people also drape the walls of their homes with paper or cloth depicting incidents from the Jataka tales which are based on incarnations of the Buddha prior to his birth as Prince Gautama.