Colourful vesak lanterns in the shape of lotus, floating on lake water signifying the delight of the Vesak Festival in Sri Lanka!
The vibrant decorations, signifying the delight of the Vesak Festival in Sri Lanka!

As you might already know, beautiful Sri Lanka, the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’, is a land of festivals. Thus, the season you visit this splendid island is never a problem. You will always have the opportunity of witnessing the delight of a wonderful festival here. The main reason behind this fact is the rich values of Sri Lankan culture that is shaded with a number of ethnicities and religions. However, when considering the religious festivals in Sri Lanka, the Vesak festival can never be ignored. In fact, since the majority of Sri Lankans are Buddhists, Vesak is celebrated with high festivity. And it is indeed a vibrant festival that allures any. Hence, we thought of sharing with you the brilliance of the Vesak festival in Sri Lanka, through this read today.  

What is the Vesak Festival in Sri Lanka? 

According to Theravada Buddhism, Vesak is the festival that commemorates three important events of Gautama Lord Buddha’s life. They are the birth of Siddhartha Gauthama, Attainment of Buddhahood (Enlightenment), and the Parinibbana (Passing away) of Lord Buddha. Indeed, this makes it an important day not only for the Sri Lankan Buddhists, but Buddhists worldwide. Besides, Sri Lankans celebrate Vesak on the Full Moon Poya day of May, each year. And of course, it is a public holiday in Sri Lanka.

Birth of Siddhartha Guatama

As per Buddhist history, Siddhartha Gauthama inquired about five major concerns when deciding his last birth. Accordingly, he has considered the right time, right area, right continent, right caste, and the right mother. Finally, his soul had entered the womb of Queen Mahamaya, the wife of King Suddhodana. This holy incident took place on an Esala Full Moon Poya day. Later, on the following Vesak Poya, the queen gave birth to the Prince. He was named, Siddhartha, with the meaning of ‘who found existence’. However, Queen Mahamaya passed away after seven days of giving birth to the Prince. Besides, the prince turned out to be a talented individual when he arrived at the youth. 

Attainment of Lord Buddha

When Prince Siddhartha reached the age of 30, he left the palace and his ordinary life. His aim was to seek the truth of wisdom. He improved his mental skills under the guidance of many spiritual instructors. Yet, what they taught was not the truth he was seeking for. However, with these influences, he explored the path of meditation. And finally, on a Vesak Poya day, he attained as Lord Buddha, enlightening the wisdom he was seeking for. 

Parinibbana of Lord Buddha

Gauthama Lord Buddha announced that he would pass away on the third watch of the night. Accordingly, the Parinbbana of Lord Buddha happened at Sal grove, of Malla royal family. And this too happened on a Vesak Full Moon Poya day.  He was 80 years old by then.

However, even though Sri Lankans celebrate all these three incidents on the Vesak Full Moon Poya day, certain South East Asian countries only celebrate the birth of Lord Buddha during that period. They celebrate Enlightenment, and Parinibbana on two separate days named Bodhi Day, and Nirvana day, during some other periods of the year. 

How is the Vesak Festival Celebrated?

Vesak is celebrated on varying scales in different countries. When considering Sri Lanka, not only Buddhists, but also other communities join hands in celebrating this festival with much devoutness and festivity.

Besides, the below details would provide you a better overview of how Sri Lankans celebrate the Vesak Festival. 

Religious Activities

Indeed, it is the religious activities that take priority among the Vesak celebrations. Thus, the bond that religious activities have with the Vesak festival in Sri Lanka is indeed significant. Religious activities in temples are never any less during the Vesak season. To be specific, poya day sil programs are the most common. Apart from that, meditation programs, sermons, and Bodhi Pooja (Religious activities focusing on the Bo tree) are also performed. 

However, despite the fact whether Buddhists join all these religious activities or not, none of them miss the tradition of visiting temples on this special day. Accordingly, Buddhists dress in white, visit temples, offer flowers to the Lord Buddha, light oil lamps, and incense sticks and observe the religion. Further, it is a must mention that the sight of hundreds of Buddhists gathering at temples dressed in white creates tranquil sights. And visiting a temple on a day as such is simply a wonderful thing to do. The fragrance of the offered flowers, and incense sticks, coupled with the serenity of the environment of the temples offers one the best atmosphere for the visitors to soothe themselves.   

Decorations during Vesak in Sri Lanka

Indeed, decorations during Vesak makes it one of the most vibrant and colorful festivals in Sri Lanka. The astounding sceneries that they create with illuminations, oil lamps, and colorful shades are simply impressive. 

To be specific, Buddhists hoist the ‘Buddhist flag’ at homes, at temples, as well as in public places and along the streets during this period. Apart from that, both Buddhists and non Buddhists in Sri Lanka make Vesak lanterns, colloquially known as ‘Vesak Koodu’, during this season as a tradition. They come out in various shapes and colors and coupled with colorful illuminations, they create mind-blowing sights. In addition, certain groups design and create huge pandals, with paintings revealing a Buddhist story. They illuminate those pandals with colorful illuminating patterns and display them every night during the season of Vesak.

So, as you might have realized all these decorations have ‘light’ as their base. And the interesting fact is that this light or the brilliance signifies the glow of the message of Dhamma. However, all these aspects and decorations add a sense of charming elegance to the Vesak festival in Sri Lanka and make it a festival that should be never missed on this splendid island, during the month of May. 

Alms Giving and Dansal

Both Buddhists and non-Buddhists help the needy and organize almsgiving owing to various reasons, during various time periods of a year. Nevertheless, almsgiving happens to be a very popular activity during the Vesak season, than any other period of the year. Accordingly, some organize almsgiving at temples for the priests, while some organize almsgiving at elders’ homes, children’s homes, etc. 

Apart from that, free food and drink stalls, colloquially known as ‘Dansal’ are available islandwide during the Vesak season, especially during Vesak day, and the following day. The main motive behind this activity is to share something with the devotees who go-rounds to enjoy the delight of Vesak celebrations. Accordingly, mainly free food stalls take place in different places, some offering main meals, and some offering snacks. Yet, alcohol and flesh are generally prohibited during the Vesak festival. 

Whether it is almsgiving or a free food stall, both of them create opportunities for people to share and joy with the rest. And why not? It is also a perfect opportunity for Buddhists, as well as other ethnicities to practice the deeds of virtue.  

Bhakthi Gee and Other Stage Performances

Throughout the cities and temples, ‘Bhakti Gee’ performances and several other religious stage performances take place. In fact, ‘Bhakti Gee’ is a religious musical show. It presents songs that bring out the good values of the religion, the vast amazing good qualities of Lord Buddha, and the importance of leading a good life. Apart from that, mime and street theater performances with religious backgrounds take place at several places around the island during the season of the Vesak Festival in Sri Lanka.  

The Bottom Line – The Vesak Festival in Sri Lanka

Above all, Vesak is indeed a significant religious festival. It encourages the Buddhists to lead a more noble life, adhering to the teachings of Lord Buddha. Going beyond, it creates them an opportunity to get a break from their bustling lives, and to commemorate Lord Buddha’s greatness, and to think twice of religious values, simplicity, and modesty, while practicing morality. And why not? Vesak goes beyond a celebration, as it encourages the community to make special efforts to bring happiness to the needy. So, when considering all these factors together, there is no doubt that the Vesak festival happens to be a noteworthy aspect of the marvelous culture and tradition in Sri Lanka

Apart from that, the Vesak festival is indeed a highlight in Sri Lanka as a celebration, owing to the spectacular sights it creates and the entertainment offered. There is no doubt that the Vesak season on this charming island offers visitors a unique and exclusive opportunity to discover the beauty of the Sri Lankan heritage and culture. So, if you ever plan to backpack in Sri Lanka, consider the Vesak season! We would suggest to you that it is one of the best times for you to arrive in Sri Lanka. And if you do so, never miss the chance to experience the joy of strolling along the streets during the energetic and delightful Vesak festivity. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, it would be one of the best experiences that you can ever imagine in this wonderland. Happy and Safe Travelling!