Wesak Day falls in the month of May and is considered to be the most important festival for Buddhists in Malaysia. This day is celebrated in order to observe the birth, enlightenment and death of Lord Buddha which according to the Buddhists all three of the events took place on the same lunar date. Different countries celebrate Wesak Day on different days due to the difference in the local lunar observance.
When translated Buddha literally means ‘one who is awake and has become enlightened’. This particular term is used to describe a person that has obtained supreme wisdom as well as the compassion of Enlightenment. The concept of Enlightenment for Buddhists can be described as a blessed stated in which the individual attains Nirvana (transcendence of desire and suffering).
On this particular day the Malaysian Buddhist devotees will begin the celebrations usually even before dawn where they will gather at the temples. The Buddhists will then hoist the Buddhist flag and sing hymns in praise of the holy triple gem namely; The Buddha, The Dharma (his teachings) and The Sangha (his disciples). Simple offerings are also brought to the temple such as flowers while prayers using candles and joss-sticks are used.
Besides using them for prayers, these items are also significant in the Buddhist teaching as it teaches the devotees about the non-permanence of life. Like a flower that will wither in due time or candles that will eventually burn out so is that of life which is subjected to destruction and decay. Before the actual day of the celebration the devout Buddhists will eat a vegetarian diet so that they will be cleansed and purified.
Wesak Day is also where you will see many of the Malaysian Buddhist devotees releasing animals such as doves and tortoises. This act is seen as a symbolic gesture of one releasing the soul and giving up for the sins that they have made in the past. Besides that, this particular act is also seen as a way of giving freedom for those that are held against their will or being tortured.
Other significance of celebrating Wesak Day is to make special efforts to bring happiness to those that are less fortunate such as the elderly and the sick. In an effort to bring joy and happiness the Malaysian Buddhists will conduct various charitable activities such as donating money and take the time out to visit orphanages and old folks home and helping out wherever they can.
The statue of the baby Buddha is displayed by some temples and it is usually located in front of the altar. The statue is then placed in a basin filled with water and decorated with flowers where the devotees are allowed to pour water over the statue. The act of pouring water over the statue is seen as a symbolic act of the practitioners of cleansing their bad karma. The other significance of pouring water over the statue is to re-enact the event following Buddha’s birth, when the devas and spirits made heavenly offerings to him.
Image Credit – KamalSell