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Not sure what Vesak Day is all about? We break it down for you here

This story was first published on May 20, 2021, and updated on May 9, 2022. 

Buddhists all over the world will celebrate the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha next week on May 15, a Sunday, which means that May 16 will be a public holiday. 

However, this year, Vesak Day will be significantly different because Singapore’s Covid-19 restrictions have largely been lifted which means that more people can visit temples to pray as well as visit their loved ones. 

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Many public places, including places of worship, have been allowed to increase their occupancies significantly. This means that many of the rituals, processions and temple visits that normally happen on Vesak Day will be able to go on as planned, something that hasn’t happened for two years. 

Despite the changes, Vesak Day continues to remain an incredibly special day for Buddhists. If you are unsure about what Vesak Day is all about, read on to find out everything you need to know about it. 

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1. What is Vesak Day about?

Vesak Day, or the day of the full moon, is a sacred day to millions of Buddhists worldwide. It marks the day that Buddha was born, attained enlightenment and then passed away in his eightieth year. It is a time for quiet reflection on Buddha’s teachings, joy and peace.  

The day that it is celebrated changes each year in accordance with the first full moon of the lunar month of Vesakha. This usually falls between May and early June. 

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2. How is Vesak Day celebrated?

Buddhism is a religion that is present in many countries and cultures such as in India, Thailand, Singapore and Korea. As a result, each Buddhist culture tends to have its own unique traditions to honour the day.

However, typically, Buddhists will go to the temple at the crack of dawn to participate in the singing of hymns to honour Buddha, his teachings and his disciples. They will also raise the Buddhist flag while singing these hymns. Some Buddhists will even stay at the temple all day and night. 

On this day, many Buddhists also participate in good deeds because it is believed that performing good deeds on Vesak Day will multiply one’s merit a number of times over. 

It is also common to see some Buddhist families decorating their homes with lanterns, taking part in processions and wearing special white clothes. They will also typically only eat vegetarian meals on this day.  

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3. Why do Buddhists make offerings?

On Vesak Day, it is common to see people putting up offerings of flowers, candles and joss sticks at the temples.

The point of using these items as offerings is to acknowledge the transient nature of life. Candles and joss sticks will burn away and flowers will eventually decay.

4. What is the ‘three-step, one-bow’ ritual?

During Vesak Day, it is common to see devotees practising the two-hour-long ‘three-step, one-bow’ ritual. This is when they take steps while on both knees and bow at every third step. While they do this, they will typically pray for world peace, personal blessings and repentance, according to Visit Singapore, a local travel guide.

The ritual is typically practised in large groups from the congregation while a mantra is chanted. 

5. Why do Buddhists ‘bathe’ Buddha?

On Vesak Day, one of the most common rituals you will see being performed is that of the ‘bathing’ of Buddha. This is where Buddhists collectively gather around and pour water over the shoulders of Buddha. 

This practice reminds believers to clear their minds of negative thoughts and hatred as well as to commemorate the birth of Buddha. It is a very sacred ritual that is carried out by Buddhists yearly.


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