Vesak: A burst of colour, a journey of merit
Vesak, can be considered one of the most sacred and important days in the Buddhist calendar. This is the day on which Buddhists commemorate the Lord Buddha's Birth, Enlightenment and entering into Nirvana.
Apart from Sri Lanka Vesak is also observed in neighbouring South Asian countries. However, Vesak in Sri Lanka is different to other South Asian countries as here it is observed as a national event rather than a religious festival.
It's a week-long celebration, recently recognised by the United Nations, which gives visitors an opportunity to discover the religious and cultural traditions in Sri Lanka. Vesak week sees many activities conducted by Buddhist devotees such as Sil Campaigns, Bodhi pooja's, devotional song (Bakthi Gee) competitions, almsgivings and competitions for vesak lanterns and Pandals that are built (at much cost) around the country.
Many temples are filled with devotees and pilgrims at this time of the year who come to worship the Lord Buddha with flowers, lighting oil lamps and incense in temples throughout the land.
Homes, public places, and shops are gaily decorated with lights.It's a very colourful festival with lanterns and pandals (pandals are decorative structures which are erected and illuminated beautifully and depict various stories from the 550 'Jathaka Katha' or 550 past life stories of Gauthama Buddha).
The crowds come to the city in their thousands to walk through the streets and browse through the various displays and it is not unusual during this week to see big trucks and lorries filled with family members and relatives not only enjoying the sights but also standing respectfully in line to be fed at one of the many Dansalas (people serving others a meal in order to bring them merit) set up around vesak zones and even along many by-roads. The more affluent people serve rice and curry (you can usually eat as much as you want provided stocks are available for others). Others stick to handing out soft drinks, ice cream, coffee or bread with seeni sambol.
Whatever your reason for coming, you will be blessed, you will be amazed and you will be entertained by one of the most colourful celebrations in the world, Vesak.