The serene and peaceful religion of Buddhism started when Gautam Buddha, who is believed to be the reincarnation of Lord Vishnu achieved enlightenment and preached his sermons to his disciples. This lovely religion holds peace and non-violence at the highest regard and has now spread to countries like Thailand, China, Japan, Korea, Cambodia, Laos and many more.
This wonderful religion also has some equally amazing festivals that are celebrated throughout the year. The festivals are unique and away from the mainstream, making them a treat to witness and experience.
If you are planning your travel to some of these Buddhist countries then try and coincide it with these festivals and find yourself in the midst of an amazing cultural fiesta.
Here are some of the major Buddhist festivals from around the world.
Buddhist New Year
Countries like Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Lao, light up with joy and bursting energy was the Buddhist New Year comes knocking at their door. The event is so popular that it is celebrated for three days starting from the first full moon day in April. The entire Buddhist community ushers the New Year with singing holy chants the fill up the street with a positive vibe. The atmosphere itself turns joyous and everyone prays for good health and well being. Every country has its own tradition of the New Year. Most common traditions, almost universal to all countries are- going to relatives houses, exchanging gifts, lighting up their houses, lighting candles in front of the deity and bathing the Buddha idol.
The timing of the New Years varies from country to country. Like in China, Korea and Vietnam, New Year starts late January or early February. Despite these variations, this festival is globally welcomed with a lot of love and pomp.
Vesak (“Buddha Day”)
This unique festival is celebrated to mark the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha, all in culmination on one day. Being an extremely pious day, Vesak is observed by almost all Buddhists. The day usually starts by Buddhists and devotes assembling at nearby monasteries and hosting the Buddhist flag. After that, they chant hymns in praise of The Buddha, his Dharma, and The Sangha- all of which are the pillars of this religion. This wonderful and peaceful festival is then marked by releasing thousands of birds and insects into the wild to propagate the idea of Freedom.
This day is more about bringing happiness to others than oneself. It talks about devoting oneself to others and always doing good. It is very rare to come across such a unique festival, which is less into the pomp and fare of the celebration and more about the inner well being of oneself.
The festival is celebrated on the first full moon day of May, but in case of a leap year, then the festival gets pushed to June.
Celebration Date: Thursday, 7 May 2020
Magha Puja Day (Fourfold Assembly or “Sangha Day”)
A truly spiritual and enlightening festival, the Magha Puja Day takes places on the full moon day in the month of March. This festival marks the holy assembly of 1250 Enlightened Saints or Arahats, who came to pay respect to Buddha, without being summoned. This holy event is said to be highly auspicious, more so because the Assembly has four factors- all of the 1250 Arahats were present, The Buddha had ordained all of them himself, they came with us any prior planning and it was a full moon day of March or the Magha Month.
This festival is widely followed in Thailand, and from there it spread to different parts of the world. The celebrations of this festival include- wonderfully enchanting processions, the lighting of candles and reciting Buddhist scriptures. On this day every Buddhist is in the devotion of The Buddha and works towards being a better person.
Celebration Date: Sunday – Monday, 9 -10 February 2020
Asalha Puja Day (“Dhamma Day”)
This festival marks yet another important event in The Buddha’s life. On this day The Buddha turned the wheel of the Dhamma to the five ascetics at the Deer Park. The vent took place at the holy place of Sarnath.
This event officially marked the starting of The Buddha’s sermons, as he went around propagating several principles of life. This event marked the start of several concepts that made its way to the Buddhist religion and its teaching.
This day is mainly followed by devout Buddhists and monks who spend their day in the monasteries listening to enchanting sermons.
Celebration Date: Tuesday, 16 July 2019
Uposatha (Observance Day)
Buddhists are staunchly into their practice and do so with utmost dedication. This day was established by Lord Buddha himself, who asked everyone to observe this day and make sure that they cleanse their souls and inculcate positive thoughts through the day. On this day, Buddhist monks try and take their rituals and penance up a notch, and intensify their mediation and try and bring more depth to their plethora of knowledge.
People who are not able to make it to monasteries, mark this day by engrossing themselves into more and more Buddhist ideologies, and abstain from things that give them unnecessary pleasure.
Kathina Ceremony (Robe offering ceremony)
Before this day, the Parvana Day is followed, which marks the end of the rainy season. On this day, when the laity decides to offer new robes and other essential items to monks. This ceremony is essentially a day of giving alms and doing good for everyone.
In some countries, you find colourful processions and celebrations taking place on this day.
Another holy day that marks a significant event in the Buddha’s life- this festival celebrates the time when the Buddha went tot he Tushita Heaven in order to teach his own mother the Abhidhamma.
This upbeat festival is the perfect time to visit Thailand. The entire country goes through a series of vibrant celebration, as this festival goes on for many days.
People start this festival by making sure their house is clean, they wash their clothes, and even sprinkle perfumed water on monks!
During this festival, many assemble near the river bank with fishes in jars and release them into the water.
There are boat races in the river, which really makes for an amazing site. All through this festival, there is never a dull moment, and you will find yourself thoroughly enjoy this fun-filled affair.
Celebration Date: Monday – Wednesday, 13 – 15 April
Loy Krathong (Festival of Floating Bowls)
Another Thai Festival, this one takes place at the end of the Kathin Festival, especially when all the canals, lakes and rivers are brimming with water.
This beautiful and serene festival has people bringing bowls made out of leaves filled with effervescent flowers, scented candles and aromatic incense sticks. They put all of this into the water and stare as they float away. It is said to symbolise the concept of bad omen fading away. The festival was first started to pay respect to a footprint of Lord Buddha found on the beach of the holy Narmada River in India.
Celebration Date: Wednesday, 13 November 2019
The Ploughing Festival
This wonderful harvest festival of the Buddhist is marked by a plough which has two white oxen pull a shining gold painted plough, was four lovely little girls dressed in pristine white dresses, drop and scatter rice seeds from their cute baskets which are painted gold and silver.
Legend says, that this festival is meant to commemorate the first time Buddha experienced enlightenment, as he watched fields being ploughed along with his father.
The little ceremony is wonderful to watch.
Celebration Date: Sunday – Monday, 10 – 11 May 2020
Note: Celebration dates may vary, so please plan accordingly with updated dates.