The Upcoming Vesak Festival in Sri Lanka

Planning a holiday in Sri Lanka this month? Don’t forget to catch a glimpse of the most popular Buddhist Festival of the year – Vesak. Buddhists across the world are eagerly awaiting the day of the full moon (Poya) in the month of May every year. India, Japan, Taiwan and Singapore are some other Asian countries that celebrate Vesak. In Sri Lanka, Vesak is seen as a religious and a social festival. Buddhists celebrate the Birth, enlightenment and the passing of Lord Buddha during this festival.

Wearing a white dress, Buddhists visit the temple and participate in traditional ceremonies. Some spend the entire day in the temple, proving their determination to follow the preaching of Buddha.  On the day of Vesak Full Moon Poya, alms giving or Dana plays an important role – it is a sign of sharing peace and joy with people. The sales of alcohol and meat is usually prohibited during the Vesak festival.

The streets across Sri Lanka are decorated in celebration of this important event. Plenty of lanterns are lit, devotional songs and sermons are sung and free food is given to passersby. While many countries celebrate this festival, in Sri Lanka, it is most beautiful. Temples are filled with devotees who worship and also offer flowers, light lamps and burn incense. Traditional observances such as these are valuable because they satisfy the religious and emotional needs of devotees.

During the Vesak season, “Thorana’s” are everywhere. These are electrically lit Vesak Pandols that are erected at public places across the island. Thoranas are sponsored by religious societies, welfare groups and other private donors. There are 550 Past Life Stories of the Lord Buddha and each Vesak Pandol illustrates one of these stories – also known as “Jathaka Katha”. At every Pandol which is brightly lit and loudly narrating stories, you will see a crowd of people gathered there, attentively listening to the story.

Vesak lanterns or Vesak koodu are hung and lit in most homes during the Vesak season in Sri Lanka. This is a significance to the memory of Buddha who delivered Dhamma’s message. During ancient times, clay oil lamps were used for illumination. Gradually, candles became popular and then colorful lanterns were made in a variety of shapes and sizes. Creating Vesak Lanterns became a skilful art and competitions were held by many associations, giving away valuable prizes to those who produced the most beautiful lanterns.

In 2019, the Vesak full moon Poya day falls on Saturday – 19th May. You can expect to see Vesak celebrations beginning from 17th May to about 21st May in hubs such as Colombo, Kandy and Nuwara Eliya during your round tour of Sri Lanka.  Also keep in mind, because the Vesak holiday falls on a Saturday and Sunday, the government of Sri Lanka has declared Monday – 20th May as a public holiday in celebration of this festival.