Vesak - religious and cultural festival in Sri Lanka

To all devout Buddhists around the world Vesak is the most important day of the year on their calendar. The birth, enlightenment and the passing away of Gautama Buddha are signified by Vesak Day. A religious cultural festival celebrated on the Poya day in the month of May. A ‘poya day’ occurs every full moon, it is derived from the Pali and Sanskrit works uposatha meaning “the cleansing of the defiled mind”. Buddhists partake in a number of local dishes on Vesak, but consume no meat — a symbol of their compassion for all living things.


This festival is celebrated in many different ways and with various cultural traditions depending on which country you visit. In Sri Lanka many different stages occupy the course of two days. Almost all Buddhists spend their mornings visiting temples, offering flowers, lighting oil lamps and incense sticks. They assemble to listen to the preachings of monks and sing hymns in praise of the Buddha, the Dharma (his teachings) and the Sangha (his disciplines).

Celebrating Vesak also means making special efforts to bring happiness to the less fortunate. People spend some time giving to charity and hosting what is called ‘dansal’. A Dansala is a stall where groups of people get together and offer free food and things of that nature for the night. It’s an activity that brings a lot of the community together, gathering around these different stalls and undoubtedly helping the less fortunate.


What is probably most spectacular during Vesak in Sri Lanka is the celebrations after nightfall. Buddhists and even locals of other religions, hang multitudes of paper lanterns of different shapes and sizes which light up the night in stunning colour. The ambiance is glorious, the streets are immaculate, the pandols will illuminate and the people are always thrilled. It is definitely a sight to see when we are allowed to safely travel again.


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