Monday, May 16, 2011

Vesak Day in Singapore: A day of Enlightenment

Vesak Day is the most auspicious day of the year for Buddhists the world over, the day that commemorates the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death. It is a time of immense joy, reflection and peace, and nowhere is it embraced with more passion than in Singapore.

Praying for peace and good luck on Vesak Day

Vesak Day Prayers. Courtesy of BBC World Service

In Singapore, thousands of Buddhist faithful flock to the temples to celebrate Vesak Day, which falls on the fifteenth day of the fourth month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar – usually in May.  A special ceremony takes place, with devotees singing hymns and the Buddhist flag being raised, while the crowd offers simple gifts such as candles, flowers and incense sticks to their spiritual leaders.

It is believed that by performing good deeds on Vesak Day, the merit earned will be multiplied many times over. Such deeds include mass blood donations, eating vegetarian meals, the release of caged animals and birds, or bathing a statue of the Buddha, an act which refers to the belief that the child Buddha was showered in the waters of the nine dragons shortly after being born.

the Buddhist Vesak Day ritual - Bathing the Buddha

Buddhist rituals on Vesak Day. Courtesy of Jeroen 020

Hundreds of Buddhist statues will be illuminated, before the celebrations take to the streets, with devotees embarking on a candlelit procession through the city.

What’s interesting about Singapore’s Buddhist community is its variety; there are two main Buddhist sects, and each group has its own way of celebrating Vesak Day.

Vesak Day sees thousands of devotees take part in a long procession

Vesak Day procession. Courtesy of Kirk Siang

Chinese Singaporeans form the biggest majority and follow Mahayana Buddhism, known as the “Greater Way”. Mahayana Buddhists believe that Nirvana can be obtained through the assistance of “enlightened ones” such as Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, as well as through self-perseverance.

To see how Mahayana Buddhists celebrate Vesak Day, you can visit the temple of Phor Kark See, where devotes perform the “three-step, one bow” ritual, praying for world peace, repentance and personal blessings.

The other main variant of Buddhism in Singapore is called Theravada Buddhism, which is more focused on achieving salvation via your own path.

Celebrations at the temple on Vesak Day

Vesak Day celebrations. Courtesy of Lipjin

Sri Lankan and Burmese communities in Singapore are the main practitioners of Theravada Buddhism. To see their unique rituals, you can visit the Burmese Geylang Temple or the Sri Lankaramaya Temple, where devotees cook rice in a pot of milk, reminiscing of the last meal the Buddha enjoyed before embarking on his long fast as he searched for enlightenment.

Whichever celebration you decide to embrace, enjoying this most auspicious day will surely leave you feeling warm and with an incredible sense of well being.

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