Hindu Festival: Buddha Purnima

A golden idol of Buddha seated in repose, at Bodhgaya

The great celebration of the month of Vaishakh falls on the full moon day on which Gautama, the Buddha, was born.

To Buddhists the world over, all full moon days are festive and important. However, the full moon of Vaishakh is the most auspicious of all. Gautama, the Buddha was born in 544 BC in Lumbini, Nepal. Unlike most other religious teachers, he was born into a royal family and

surrounded by wealth and material ease. According to Buddhist lore, Mahamaya his mother, often dreamt of white elephants at the time of her pregnancy and thus knew that a divine child of miraculous charisma and destiny would be born to her.

Then as a young adult, Siddharth, the prince born to King Suddhadhana and Queen Mahamaya, undertook a short journey in the course of which he observed the futility of human life. He saw the way a man grew into adulthood, passed into old age and then became helpless, sick and feeble before death.

A tableaux shows the Buddha delivering his first sermon at the deer park in Sarnath, near the holy city of Varanasi

Saddened by the realization that life was a meaningless and hollow passage from one state of being to the next, the prince went into deep meditation under a Bodhi tree near Gaya, until he finally attained enlightenment, once again on the full moon day of Vaishakh. He was then 35 years of age and thereafter became known as Gautama, the Buddha. He gave his first sermon in Sarnath, near the holy city of Varanasi, to his followers who formed a Sangha, also on the Vaishakh Purnima.

The Buddha, who is considered the ninth avatar of Vishnu, reached Nirvana also on the full moon day of Vaishakh. Therefore Buddha Purnima marks the three major events in the life of this great apostle of peace.

The Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya has stood for centuries as a reminder of the Buddha's attainment of enlightment

Buddhist countries like Japan, Burma and Sri Lanka celebrate this festival with special fervour. In Sri Lanka it is celebrated like Diwali with paper and bamboo stick lanterns twinkling under the night sky. Kheer is shared by families and distributed to the poor. Buddhists free birds from their cages and refrain from eating meat on this day.

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