LIFESTYLE

Buddhists In Asia Are Throwing Buddha A Big, Beautiful Birthday Celebration

It's one of the most important dates on the Buddhist calendar.

11/05/2017 12:55 AM IST | Updated 11/05/2017 12:55 AM IST
Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters
Buddhist believers carrying lanterns march during a Lotus Lantern parade in celebration of the upcoming birthday of Buddha in Seoul, South Korea April 29, 2017.

Buddhists around the world are honoring the birth, enlightenment, and death of their spiritual leader with a bright, colorful festival called Vesak Day. 

Vesak Day (also known as Waisak, Wesak, or Buddha Day), is one of the most important dates on the Buddhist calendar. It is believed to be the day in 567 BC that Prince Siddhartha Gautama was born in Nepal.

The prince lived in luxury and opulence behind his father’s palace walls until his late 20s, when he ventured outside and was confronted with the reality of suffering in the world. The prince, overwhelmed after witnessing poverty, disease, and death, decided to leave his life of luxury and become an ascetic.

Unsatisfied with the guidance of various religious teachers he met along his way, the prince decided to sit underneath a Bodhi tree until he discovered the truth that he was seeking about suffering. He sat there for days, facing various challenges and sinking deeper into meditation, until he finally understood the answer ― in that moment becoming the Buddha, or the enlightened one. 

For the rest of his life, the Buddha sought to lead others to the path of enlightenment. He died peacefully at the age of 80. 

ISHARA S. KODIKARA via Getty Images
A Sri Lankan artist works on Buddhist statues ahead of the Vesak Festival in Dompe, on the outskirts of Colombo on May 7, 2017.

Vesak celebrates all three of these important events in the Buddha’s life ― his birth, enlightenment, and death. Buddhist scriptures claim all three happened on the full moon of the Indian lunar month, Vesakha. 

According to the Pew Research Center, Buddhists account for 7 percent of the world’s total population. The overwhelming majority of Buddhists (almost 99 percent) live in the Asia-Pacific region.

The United Nations marks Vesak Day on May 10, but the festivities, and the exact date of Vesak, vary greatly according to culture and region. In many regions, the celebrations center around Buddhist temples, where people gather to meditate and light lanterns.

In Indonesia, thousands of monks and pilgrims will gather at the Borobodur Temple in Java between May 9 and May 11. They will light candles, chant, and circle three times around the ancient temple, then release some 1,000 lanterns into the sky symbolizing enlightenment for the entire universe. 

In South Korea, people celebrate with a month-long Lotus Lantern Festival, which includes parades, performances, and thousands of colorful, glowing lanterns. Many devotees will gather to celebrate at the Jogyesa Temple in Seoul, the center of Korean Buddhism. 

In India, pilgrims flock to Sarnath, a city in Uttar Pradesh, India, where the Buddha is believed to have given his first public sermon after attaining enlightenment. Here, devotees wear white clothes, meditate, and leave offerings for Vesak.

Celebrations also take place in Sri Lanka, Thailand, China, Malaysia, and a number of other Asian countries. 

Scroll down to see images of Buddha Day throughout Asia.

  • Nepal
    Navesh Chitrakar / Reuters
    A devotee sprinkles rice grains as part of rituals during the birth anniversary of Buddha, also known as Vesak Day, at Swayambhu in Kathmandu, Nepal, May 10, 2017. 
  • Nepal
    Tom Van Cakenberghe via Getty Images
    Buddhist monks and devotees release small birds as part of Buddha's birthday prayers at Boudha Stupa on May 10, 2017 in Kathmandu, Nepal. 
  • Nepal
    NurPhoto via Getty Images
    Nepalese devotee offers ritual prayer towards a Buddha at the Chiloncho Stupa during the celebration of Buddha Purnima festival, the birthday of Lord Gautam Buddha at Chiloncho, Kirtipur, Kathmandu on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. 
  • Nepal
    Navesh Chitrakar / Reuters
    A hand of a devotee is pictured as she offers butter lamps during the birth anniversary of Buddha, also known as Vesak Day, at Swayambhu in Kathmandu, Nepal, May 10, 2017. 
  • India
    MANJUNATH KIRAN via Getty Images
    Indian Buddhist devotees leave offerings and offer prayers at a statue of the Buddha during celebrations to mark Buddha Purnima at the Maha Bodhi Society in Bangalore on May 10, 2017. 
  • India
    Ajay Verma / Reuters
    Devotees offer prayers next to oil lamps at a Buddhist temple on the occasion of Buddha Purnima festival, also known as Vesak Day, in Chandigarh, India, May 10, 2017. 
  • India
    STR via Getty Images
    Buddhist Monks carry a statue of Buddha as they take part in a procession at The Mahabodi Temple at Bodhgaya on May 10, 2017, on the occasion of Buddha Purnima.
  • India
    MANJUNATH KIRAN via Getty Images
    Indian Buddhist monks arrive to take part in celebrations to mark Buddha Purnima at the Maha Bodhi Society in Bangalore on May 10, 2017. 
  • China
    China Stringer Network / Reuters
    Monks pour water onto a Buddha statue during a celebration event for Buddha's birthday in Sanya, Hainan province, China May 3, 2017. 
  • China
    Pacific Press via Getty Images
    A child wearing his dragon costume during the Buddha's Birthday festival in Shau Kei Wan, Hong Kong, on May 3, 2017. 
  • China
    Pacific Press via Getty Images
    A child sitting on a chair during the Buddha's Birthday festival in Shau Kei Wan, Hong Kong, on May 3, 2017. 
  • China
    China Stringer Network / Reuters
    People perform a local dance play to celebrate Buddha's Birthday in Zhongshan, Guangdong province, China May 3, 2017. 
  • Thailand
    NurPhoto via Getty Images
    Devotees give alms to monks during a ceremony marking Visakha Bucha Day in Bangkok, Thailand, on 10 May 2017.
  • Thailand
    Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters
    Novice nuns and buddhists carry candles as they pray during Vesak Day at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon temple in Ayutthaya, Thailand, May 10, 2017. 
  • Thailand
    Chaiwat Subprasom / Reuters
    Buddhists carry candles while encircling a large Buddha statue during Vesak Day, an annual celebration of Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death, at a temple in Nakhon Pathom province on the outskirts of Bangkok May 10, 2017. 
  • Thailand
    Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters
    A man carries his dog as he prays during Vesak Day at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon temple in Ayutthaya, Thailand, May 10, 2017. 
  • Sri Lanka
    ISHARA S. KODIKARA via Getty Images
    A Sri Lankan artist works on Buddhist statues ahead of the Vesak Festival in Dompe, on the outskirts of Colombo on May 7, 2017. Sri Lankan Buddhists are preparing to celebrate Vesak, which commemorates the birth of Buddha, his attaining enlightenment and his passing away at the full moon, which falls on May 10 this year. 
  • Sri Lanka
    AFP via Getty Images
    Sri Lankan Buddhist devotees offer prayers at the Kelaniya Temple during the Vesak Festival in the Colombo suburb of Kelaniya on May 10, 2017. 
  • Sri Lanka
    LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI via Getty Images
    A Sri Lankan street vendor hangs lanterns for sale ahead of the Vesak Festival in Colombo on May 4, 2017.
  • Sri Lanka
    AFP via Getty Images
    Sri Lankan Buddhist devotees offer prayers at the Kelaniya Temple during the Vesak Festival in the Colombo suburb of Kelaniya on May 10, 2017. 
  • Myanmar
    Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters
    A family takes a seflie as they visit the Shwedagon Pagoda during Kason Watering Festival celebrations, also know as Vesak Day, in Yangon, Myanmar May 10, 2017. 
  • South Korea
    JUNG YEON-JE via Getty Images
    A South Korean worker attaches a name card with a wish of Buddhist followers to a lotus lantern at Jogye Temple in Seoul on April 12, 2017 ahead of celebrations marking Buddha's birthday in the country. The temple is decorated with thousands of colorful lanterns celebrating Buddha's upcoming birthday on May 3. 
  • South Korea
    ED JONES via Getty Images
    Worshippers offer prayers marking the birthday of Buddha at a shrine on a hilltop overlooking Seoul on May 3, 2017. 
  • South Korea
    Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters
    A child wearing a lantern headband rests before a Lotus Lantern parade in celebration of the upcoming birthday of Buddha in Seoul, South Korea April 29, 2017. 
  • South Korea
    Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters
    Buddhist believers carrying lanterns march during a Lotus Lantern parade in celebration of the upcoming birthday of Buddha in Seoul, South Korea April 29, 2017. 
  • Singapore
    Edgar Su / Reuters
    Buddhist monks prostrate as they perform the "three steps one bow" ceremony at Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery on the eve of Vesak Day in Singapore, May 9, 2017. 
  • Malaysia
    NurPhoto via Getty Images
    A devotee puts a golden paper onto Buddha statue during Vesak day in Penang, Malaysia, on May 10,2017. 
  • Indonesia
    NurPhoto via Getty Images
    Buddhist monks walks around the street during the procession of Pindapata in Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia on May 10, 2017. Pindapata is one of the series of commemoration of the sacred day of Vesak for Buddhists. 
  • Cambodia
    TANG CHHIN SOTHY via Getty Images
    Cambodian women pray in front of a shrine out side the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh on May 10, 2017. Cambodians celebrated 2,561 years of Buddha, called 'Visak Bochea', that is the date of Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death on the day of the full moon.
  • Vietnam
    Nguyen Huy Kham / Reuters
    A man places a container holding what is believed to be the relics of Buddha in front of a Child Buddha statue while celebrating the Vesak Day in Quan Su Pagoda, Hanoi, Vietnam May 9, 2017. 
Also on HuffPost
Female Buddhist Leaders