Vesak or Wesak is a celebrated around the world by Buddhists. It is also known as Buddha's birthday. Although this celebration considered the largest Buddhist celebration in the calendar, actually honours 3 significant events in Buddha's life — his birthday, enlightenment and his passing.
The exact date of this celebration varies each year depending on the various lunar calendars in different countries and traditions. This day is considered a national holiday in most Southeast Asian countries as well as Sri Lanka, Nepal, India and Bangladesh.
Celebratory traditions also differ between countries and buddhist traditions.
Malaysia is a 20% Buddhist country, second to the Islamic religion which consists of the majority of the population. Hari Wesak is a national holiday in Malaysia and Buddhist devotees start their celebrations at dawn. Buddhists gather at temples before dawn to meditate on the 8 precepts of Buddhism. Devotees often bring offerings such as flowers, candles and joss-sticks to the temples while the monks chant the sutras, reciting verses of Buddha's word from 25 centuries ago, reminding people to live in harmony with people of other faiths and respect others' beliefs.
This day is also a day to make efforts to bring happiness to others. It is a time for great joy and happiness but not by indulging in one's own desires. Instead observing vegetarianism for the day and providing for others such a monks, those that are less fortunate is part of the bringing of joy.
Making a trip to experience Vesak in the different countries would be a great way to see how these traditions are carried out by Buddhists around the world. Booking accommodation in Malaysia, Johor Bahru, Kuala Lumpur or even Port Dickson is a great place to start. In Malaysia, Buddhists offer food and donations to temples, monks as well as participate in various welfare activities. There is also the "Bathing the Buddha" ceremony where water is poured over the shoulders of the Buddha cleansing the statue but also to remind people to purify the mind of greed, to practice morality and kindness. At the end of the day a candle procession and parade is held in the evening, which includes various floats, dragon and lion dances. This being the highlight of this holiday people of different religions generally gather to watch the parade and join in the festivities.
Buddhists use this day to reiterate their determination to leading noble lives.