Cultural events are listed here with basic background details. For specific events, dates, and times, please see the Featured Events on the Cultural Calendar main page.
Vesak, or Buddha Day, is a festival which commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of The Buddha.
Observed by Buddhists all over the world, Vesak is celebrated as a public holiday in many countries throughout Asia. Meditation, prayer, recitation, offerings of flowers and candles, and eating vegetarian food are all common practices. Another important aspect of Vesak is the bringing of happiness to the less fortunate, with many partaking in volunteer service and the giving alms to the poor.
Vesak is sometimes observed with a life release, where animals, birds and insects are released in their thousands, to give freedom to the imprisoned and tortured. Adherents are also encouraged to refrain from killing of any kind, and to eat only vegetarian food.
Vesak is known by many names and celebrated in many ways throughout Asia, for example:
In Indonesia, where it is known as Waisak Day, Buddhist monks spend the day bottling holy water, and transporting flames from place to place. The water symbolises humility, and the fire enlightenment.
Laos has the Vixakha Festival, celebrated with parades, dancing, puppet shows, and theatre, as well as Boun Bang Fay, the famous Rocket Festival, where participants compete to make highest, fastest, and most colourful fireworks.
In Malaysia, the Wesak celebrations start with dawn gatherings at temples for meditation and prayer, and a candle procession is a highlight. In Japan, celebrations include pouring a sweet tea known as amacha on statues, and South Korea has the lantern-lighting festival, Yeondeunghoe.
In Sri Lanka, Vesak Festival lasts for a week, during which sale of alcohol is prohibited and slaughterhouses are closed by government decree. Houses are decorated, and people wear white clothing. Pilgrims gather in temples to worship, recite Gāthā, and observe sīla. Colourful lanterns called Vesak kuddu and hung in the streets and stalls are set up to provide free food and drink to people passing by. Electrically lit Vesak pandols called thoranas are built during Vesak season, decorated with illustrated panels from the Jātakas, or tales of the life of The Buddha.
Vesak is primarily celebrated on the full moon day of Vaisakha, the second month of the lunisolar Hindu calendar, usually falling in May in the Gregorian calendar, though dates of observance vary from country to country.