In simple terms, Vesak Festival is the celebration of the Birth, Enlightenment and Passing-away of the Gautama Buddha. For Sri Lankans, the “Thoranas” (Vesak Pandals), Vesak lanterns and “Dansalas” (food stalls) come to their mind when we talk about Vesak.
Sri Lanka’s grandest religious festival, Vasak is an annual celebration of the great three events (Themangula) of the Gautama Buddha’s life: the birth, enlightenment and passing-away, and this is traditionally observed by all Buddhists across Sri Lanka as well as other Buddhist countries in the world. In Sri Lanka, this holy day falls on the full moon of the lunar month of Vesak (in the month of May) and the Vesak celebrations continue for about a week.
On Vesak day, Buddhist devotees and followers assemble in temples before dawn for the ceremonial, and honourable hoisting of the Buddhist flag and the reciting of verses in praise of the holy triple gem: The Buddha, the Dhamma (His teachings) and the Sangha (His disciples). Devotees bring simple offerings of flowers candles and joss-sticks to lie at the feet of the Gautama Buddha.
In some countries, particularly in Sri Lanka, two days are set aside for the celebrations of the Vesak and all liquor shops and slaughter houses are closed on the order of the Government. Buddhists devotees wear simple white dress and spend the whole day in temples with renewed determination to observe the noble precepts taught by the Guatama Buddha to train themselves to practice morality, simplicity and humility.
Celebrations include various religious and alms-giving activities. Electrically lit Vesak Pandals called “Thoranas” are erected in various locations mainly in Colombo, Kandy, Galle and elsewhere; most sponsored by donors, religious societies and welfare groups. Each Pandal illustrates a story from the 550 Jathaka Katha (550 past life stories of the Buddha). In addition, colorful lanterns called Vesak Koodu are hung along streets, in front of homes, offices and business places. They signify the light of the Buddha, Dharma and the Sanga. Food stalls set up Buddhist devotees called “Dansalas” provide free food and drinks to passersby. Group of people from various community organizations, businesses, and government departments sing Bhakti gee or Buddhist devotional songs. During the Vesak seasons, the whole Island mainly Colombo turns to be a sparkling wonderland, nicely decorated and lit every nook and corner with Vesak lanterns, thoranas and so on. The Vesak festival attracts tens of thousands of people of all faith.