Vesak Day this year is on 26 May – in case you’re not entirely certain why you’re getting another public holiday in Singapore! Here’s some facts and figures about this prominent Buddhist festival and Buddhism.
1. Vesak Day is the most important day in the Buddhist calendar
Celebrating three major events in the Buddha’s life – his birth, Enlightenment (nirvana) and death (parinirvana) – this day is honoured by temple visits, vegetarian meals and various offerings. Depending on the calendar you follow and your location, the date varies every year. In 2021, Vesak Day is falling on 26 May in Singapore and is the only Buddhist celebration among the public holidays.
2. There are different branches of Buddhism
Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana are the three main branches of the religions. Theravada Buddhism is said to be the closest to the original Indian form of Buddhism and is practised in Southern countries such as Sri Lanka, Thailand and Burma. In Singapore, Mahayana is most practised by Chinese Buddhists, followed by Theravada, practised by the Burmese and Sri Lankan community.
3. Practices and rituals may vary
Depending on the branch they follow, devotees celebrate Vesak Day slightly differently. Mahayana Buddhists practise the “three-step, one-bow” ritual – bowing or prostrating every three steps as they go around the perimeter of the temple. Theravada Buddhist celebrations include cooking a milk rice pudding to symbolise Buddha’s last meal before his fasting period to attain Enlightenment.
Many Buddhists here organise blood donations at hospitals, visit people on old age homes and or distribute gifts to the needy.
4. Vesak Day was not always a public holiday
The day was only made an official break from the working calendar in 1955, following petitions by the Singapore Buddhist Association after World War II.
5. You don’t have to be Buddhist to join the celebrations
Experience this significant day by heading to Phor Kark See Temple and view a candlelight procession through the city as devotees pray for peace and blessings. Another interesting location to try is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum, located in Chinatown, and perfect for visiting after having some delicious local fare at the adjoining Chinatown Food Centre.
Haven’t decided what you’re doing for the weekend? Take a look at our Things to Do section!
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