Today marks the commemoration of the life, enlightenment and death of Siddhartha Guatama – the founder of Buddhism.

Vesak Day, also known as Buddha Day, is an annual celebration of the Guatama Buddha, whose teachings gave birth to one of the oldest religions in the world. The day is a time of reflecting on the Buddha’s teaching and what it means to be a Buddhist.

Considered one of the most important festivals in Buddhism, the day is celebrated across Southeast Asia, although it may alternate between days depending on the country and the full moon of the ancient lunar month of Vesaka. Regardless, it often falls in May or early June.

With several countries commemorating the day, Vesak is celebrated in different ways according to the country’s traditions. Some may go to a local temple to spend the day and night of the full moon, while others may practice good deeds and meditate.

In Malaysia, a ceremony at dawn takes place at Buddhist temples nationwide where devotees sing hymns and meditate.

In Singapore, caged birds are released by devotees. Similarly, in Indonesia, lanterns are released into the air while followers visit temples. Other countries partake in a ritual where a statue of the Buddha is bathed to reflect the purification of negative thoughts.

However, this year’s celebrations will greatly differ with social distancing and travel restrictions in place in many countries. The holy day will be the latest religious holiday to be affected by the global outbreak, as Muslims continue to observe the holy month of Ramadan in lockdown.

Who was Guatama Buddha?

Siddhartha Guatama was born into a royal family in Lumbini – now modern-day Nepal. While opinions differ on when the Buddha was born or died, it could have possibly been around 567 BC.

The story goes that the Buddha lived a sheltered life of privilege as the prince of a royal family, however when he became exposed to human suffering, he made the decision to go on a spiritual journey as a homeless holy man.

During this time, the Buddha became enlightened, discovering the meaning of life and passed on his teachings to others. Today, the religion is one of the biggest in the world and is responsible for spiritually moving millions across the globe.

Aisha Mohamed