Buddha Purnima is a Buddhist festival mainly celebrated in Eastern Asia for commemorating the birth of Prince Siddharth Gautam who went on to become Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. Buddha was born in 623 B.C. in Lumbini Nepal. This festival is celebrated by both Hindus and Buddhists in Nepal. It is a public holiday in which people go to different Buddhist sites to worship and celebrate the birth date of Gautam Buddha. This festival goes by various names Buddha Jayanti, Buddha Purnima, Vaishak Purnima, Saga Dawa, or Vesak.
On Buddha Purnima, people celebrate Buddha’s choice to embrace a spiritual quest where he foresaid all worldly pleasures to become a holy man. When Siddharth Gautam witnessed the suffering of common people, he decided to let go of his royal life. During this festival, people avoid non-vegetarian food. They dress in white clothes and give out kheer (rice pudding) as according to a legend, a woman named Sujata offered Gautam Buddha on his birthday and since then it has been a tradition. During this day, ceremonies are made to give sermons, display Buddha relics, and honour Lord Buddha.
When is Buddha Purnima?
Buddha Purnima is celebrated in accordance with Asian lunisolar calendars. The exact date varies with the western Gregorian calendar. It is primarily celebrated on the full moon day of Baishak month of the Buddhist calendar and Bikram Sambhat Hindu calendar in Nepal and India. The exact date varies from year to year however it usually falls in April or May and in June in a leap year.
Why is Buddha Purnima Celebrated?
Buddha Purnima Festival is one of the great importance for Buddhists as it not only represents the day Gautam Buddha was born but also marks the day of his enlightenment and mahaparanirvana (nirvana after death). This day is known as the Thrice Blessed Festival. And people look forward to this sacred day with great enthusiasm.
Places to celebrate Buddha Purnima in Nepal
Buddha Purnima is an auspicious day to visit holy Buddhist sites, monuments, and stupas. The main place people gather during this day is Lumbini, the place where Buddha was born. There are thousands of Buddhist chaityas where people go to worship Buddha. Some of the main places are:
- Lumbini: Lumbini is situated in the western Terai plains of Nepal. It is the place where Queen Maya Devi gave birth to Siddharth Gautam while passing through Lumbini Garden. The newly-born Prince is believed to have taken seven steps and uttering a message to all humanity. Buddha was given a bath at the pond known as Siddhartha Kunda inside the Lumbini garden. Queen Mayadevi’s idol was built at the very spot where Siddhartha was born. Lumbini is the most important and focal place to celebrate Buddha Purnima Festival. Pilgrims from various places come here to visit and worship during this festival. Special prayers and chanting are organized in the area. People make donations. They visit various sites throughout the day and honour the beliefs of Buddhism.
- Swoyambhunath stupa: Situated in the northwest of Kathmandu Valley, Swayambhunath Stupa has stood as a symbol of faith and harmony for centuries. It is believed that this stupa dates back from 460 A.D. and was built by King Manadeva in the 13th century. It is the oldest of its kind. It is an important centre of Buddhism. There are many monasteries that surround the beautiful and outstanding Stupa. It is the holiest Buddhist stupa in Nepal. A large number of Buddhists and Hindus visit this religious place throughout the year. You can see devotees circumambulating the stupa all the time. People come here to achieve inner peace and meditate. The largest crowds can be seen during Buddha Purnima where people come to honour Lord Buddha.
- Boudhanath stupa: Boudhanath stupa is the most popular site for Buddhists. Many pilgrims come here in seek of inner peace and worship this place by circumnavigating the structure and chanting mantras. Boudhanath stupa was built during the 5th century. It is enlisted in the UNESCO World Heritage site. There are around 29 Tibetan gompas around Boudhanath. The number of people visiting this Stupa increases significantly. During the days, the surrounding air is often thick with incense, and mantras are sung by monks. This area is fascinating and very spiritual. The crowd increases even more during Buddha Purnima. People from different places come here to worship and celebrate Buddha. They seek peace and harmony here. It looks spectacular at night when decorated with butter lamps.
- Namo Buddha: Namo Buddha is a very quiet and beautiful place. It is 40km away from Kathmandu city in the Kavre district. One of the holiest pilgrimage sites, a very old Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery resides in this area. It is known as the place where Lord Buddha in his life as a prince, gave his body to a starving tigress. The environment around this place is very pure, the air is fresh and you can get a view of snow-capped mountains and beautiful sunrise and sunsets. When people come to this place they recite “NamoBuddhaya”( I take refuge in Buddha) to dispel their anxiety. It is a central area of attraction for tourists and pilgrims. The main festivals celebrated in this area are Kartik Purnima and Buddha Jayanti.
- Asura Cave Pharping: Guru Rinpoche, also known as Guru Padmasambhava was a great Buddhist master from the eighth-century having many spiritual aspects, and founder of Tibetian Buddhism. He is also respected as the second Buddha. Asura cave is the place of Guru Rinpoche. It is the most sacred site connected to Guru Rinpoche. Many devotees come here to offer homage at the place where lotus born gained the Siddhi of Mahamudra. As this cave in Pharping has great significance for Buddhists, many come here to worship during Buddha Purnima.
There are many other monasteries and chaityas where devotees visit and celebrate this festival. Buddhists of all persuasions as well as pilgrims from abroad honour Lord Buddha and celebrate him during this time. Buddha Purnima is all about praying with a pure heart and feelings and adopting the teachings of Lord Buddha of peace, non-violence, and harmony. Activities at the main Buddhist stupas and shrines start at dawn and continue till late evening.