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Vesak Festival

Wesak , the most hallowed of Buddhist festivals commemorating the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha is held on the full moon day in May and the day following it. Starting at dawn, Buddhists dressed in white start to make their way to the temple to observe sila , in which they spend the day meditating, reading religious texts, and listening to sermons. At night the temples are crowded with devotees bringing flowers and offerings. Nevertheless, Wesak is a joyous occasion and is celebrated with verve and imagination. Among the many striking decorations are intricate Wesak paper lanterns of different shapes and sizes, and the thousands of little clay coconut oil lamps ( pol-thel pahana ) that flicker throughout the island.

In Colombo the celebrations are unsurpassed. Enormous pandals (bamboo frameworks) hung with pictures depicting events in the life of the Buddha are erected in the streets, illuminated by a myriad of flashing coloured electric light bulbs. Another special feature of Wesak are the danselas (alms booths). These are temporary sheds, set up by the roadside with tables and chairs by local people, at which food and refreshment are given free to sightseers and pilgrims. In addition, puppet shows and open-air theatre performances telling Buddhist tales are held throughout the island.
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