The birthday of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) is a traditional Buddhist festival. Beyond the sole celebration of the birth of the historical Buddha, Vesak celebrates the three great stages of his existence: his birth, his awakening (Bodhi) and his death (Parinirvana).
Vesak is most often celebrated on the full moon of May, more rarely in the first days of June, in the Gregorian calendar. The precise date varies, however, depending on the year and the country.
It is traditionally celebrated in East Asia on the 8th day of the 4th month of the Chinese lunar calendar. It is an official holiday in Indonesia, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and South Korea.
The festival is called Visakah Puja or Buddha Purnima in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, Wisakha Bucha (Thai: วิสาขบูชา) in Thailand, Visakha Pujea in Cambodia, Lễ Phật Đản in Vietnam, Waisak in Indonesia, Vesak or Wesak in Sri Lanka and Malaysia, Saga Dawa in Tibet, and fódàn in China (traditional Chinese: 佛誕; pinyin: fo dàn; Cantonese: fātdàahn). In Laos, the equivalent holiday is Vixakha Boux', and in Burma, it is called Ka-sone.
It is one of the most important festivities in Sri Lanka. It is celebrated on the day of the full moon. People perform religious rites and decorate houses and streets with lights and lanterns made for the occasion.
In Cambodia, the celebration refers to the birth, the awakening and the parinibbana of the Buddha. This commemoration is called "Bun Visakha Pujea". According to the Khmer lunar calendar the celebration takes place on the first full moon of the month of Visakha (ខែពិសាខ).
In the Gregorian calendar, the day of celebration varies between the end of April and May. This celebration is celebrated throughout the country but according to Khmer custom the celebration is held at Phnom Preah Reajatrop (ភ្នំព្រះរាជទ្រព្យ), commonly known as Phnom Uddong (ភ្នំឧត្តុង្គ).
Phnom Uddong is a sacred place where a relic of the Buddha is kept and venerated in the Preah Maha Shākyamuni Chedey (ព្រះសក្យមុនីចេតិយ). The King and his court celebrate this date at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, in the Silver Pagoda (Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot, ព្រះវិហារព្រះកែវមរកត).
In Japan, Buddha's birthday is celebrated on April 8, but it is not an official national holiday. It is also called the festival of flowers (in Japanese: Hana matsuri or Kanbutsu-e). Children traditionally drink amacha, a drink made from a variety of hydrangea. Hydrangea is a type of flower that is normally pink but can vary from region to region.
In South Korea, Buddha's birthday is celebrated following the luni-solar calendar. This day is called 부처님 오신 날 (Bucheonim osin nal) which means the day of Buddha's coming or Seokka Tanshin-il, which is the day of Buddha's birth. Paper lanterns in the shape of a lotus cover all the temples for a month, and often these lanterns are found hanging everywhere in the streets.
On the day of Buddha's birth many temples offer free meals and tea to all visitors. It is also traditional to wear the traditional Korean garment, the hanbok, as a mark of respect. The breakfast and meal offered is often sanchae bibimbap.
In India, the day commemorating the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha is called Vesak (named after the second lunar month of the Hindu calendar, Vaisakha) and Buddha Purnima, which is the Full Moon of the Buddha.
This commemoration takes place on Poya day in May (full moon of May).
In Indonesia, on the night of the full moon in May, a festival is held at Borobudur temple in Central Java. A torchlight procession starts from the temple of Mendut, located 8 km away, passes through the temple of Pawon and arrives at Borobudur.
There, the procession climbs the steps to the top. Hundreds of monks in saffron robes lead the procession, carrying flowers and candles which they light as the moon appears on the horizon. The monks then begin their prayers, meditation and chanting late into the night.
In some places there is a holiday one week later, on the 15th day of the 4th month of the Chinese calendar, to coincide with the full moon. For example, Wan Vaisakh Bucha or Lễ Phật Đản in Vietnam was one such holiday on May 12, 2006. Singapore also celebrates Vesak Day on the 15th day of the 4th month of the Chinese calendar (to calculate the next holidays add 7 days to the above dates)
In France, the Buddhist Union of France traditionally celebrates Vesak on the full moon day of May1.