For many in south Asia, today is one of the days celebrated as Vesak, a prominent holiday in the Buddhist festival calender. Vesak (or Wesak) commemorates three events, the Birth, Enlightenment (nirvana) and Passing Away (Parinivana) of the Buddha. Also known as "Buddha's Birthday", Vesak is named for the Pali and/or Sanskrit word for the fourth month in the lunar calendar. Because this festival is based on the occurrence of the full moon, the date of Vesak changes from year to year, but is usually held in April or May. For at full list of Vesak days since 2001, a useful chart has been posted within the Wikipedia article about Vesak. In 2012, Vesak is celebrated on May 5th in Sri Lanka, May 6th in India, and June 4th in Thailand. Taiwan and Hong Kong (China) have already celebrated Vesak, which was on April 28th, 2012.
Common activities during Vesak include community service, meditation on the Noble Eightfold Path, making offerings of incense and alms, and paying homage to the Buddha. In many places, people also listen as monks chant sutras and give dharma talks. Various Vesak traditions have also arisen between different countries and regions, with a rich cultural diversity resulting from this joyous celebration. In Japan and South Korea, scented water or tea is poured over a statue of the baby Buddha, as a symbol of purification and reaffirming one's resolve in living a noble and pure life. In Indonesia, festivities during Vesak include lighting paper lanterns and letting them float up into the night sky. For a great slideshow featuring various festivities during Vesak, please click here. The slideshow is from the Huffington Post, and shows some beautiful images of this year's Vesak and Vesaks past in Singapore, Taiwan, and Sri Lanka, with a special focus on Indonesia and South Korea. I hope you enjoy the images as much as I did.
So Happy Vesak, Everyone! May the joys and wisdom of the Dharma be renewed in you as you travel along the Path!