Buddhists in Malaysia celebrate Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death on Wesak Day. It is sometimes referred to as Buddha’s Birthday, Buddha Day or Buddha Purnima. Wesak Day is celebrated on the Sunday that is closest to May’s full moon.
This holiday is one of the most important festivals in the Buddhist calendar as it commemorates three significant events in Gautama Buddha’s life – namely his birthday, his enlightenment and his passing away.
The observance of Wesak begins at dawn when Buddhists gather in temples. They meditate on the precepts of Buddhism. Those who follow these precepts should honour life, show generosity, embrace celibacy and use speech wisely. They should also refrain from alcohol and only eat at certain times. The precepts also forbid listening to music, adorning one’s body and sleeping too much.
Attendees at Wesak Day services also make donations and pray. They offer flowers and candles. These offerings remind them that everything is temporary. Flowers wither and candles burn. Monks chant the teachings of Buddha, and the flag of Buddha is raised. A number of temples will give away flags of Buddha before Wesak, and people hang these flags in their homes.
Many Buddhists go to the Malaysian Buddhist Association building and wait in line to wash a statue of Buddha. They believe this ritual will cleanse their souls and purify them. Those who visit the building also light candles shaped like lotuses and ask for Buddha’s blessings. They say prayers and end their celebration with a vegetarian meal.
The celebration of Wesak Day in the city of Kuala Lumpur in southwestern Malaysia ends with a parade. This parade of decorated floats lasts for several hours. One of the floats usually has a large statue of Buddha. People walk beside the floats carrying flowers and candles.
The Buddhist religion was started by Siddhartha Gautuma in approximately 500 B.C. Gautuma belonged to a royal family in Nepal. His privileged life was disturbed when he realised that everyone experienced illness, old age and death. Gautuma began to wonder about the meaning of life, and he left his home to wander through the country. He wanted to learn the truth about life and death.
Gautuma studied yoga under several teachers and fasted. He thought fasting would enable him to become enlightened about life and death. Fasting did not seem to help his knowledge. A young woman brought him food one day when he was sitting under a tree. He ate the food and realised that neither fasting nor self-indulgence would help him find the meaning of life. This realisation is known as the enlightenment. Gautuma became known as Buddha or the Enlightened One.
Different countries may celebrate Wesak Day in different ways but in all places it is a celebration of much colour and joy. It is considered a public holiday in most of the South East Asia countries like Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Singapore.