Foreign to the cultural and religious holidays in Singapore? Here’s a crash course on Vesak Day.
Vesak Day is one of the most important, holiest days celebrated by Buddhists, as it marks the birth, enlightenment (Nirvana), and death (Parinirvana) of the Gautama Buddha.
In Singapore, it’s celebrated on the 15th day of the fourth month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. This year, it falls on 7 May 2020. Check out the gallery below to see how you can join in, even during the current circuit breaker.
Before the Covid outbreak and mandatory social distancing, at the crack of dawn, devout observers of the faith would congregate at temples to witness the hoisting of the Buddhist flag, sing hymns, offer candles, joss sticks and flowers and more. The candles and joss sticks burn down while the flowers eventually wither – a symbol to represent the transience of life.
Buddhists believe that performing good deeds on Vesak Day will multiply merit many times over, so many spend the day on worthy causes such as donating blood and other acts of generosity.
One ritual included on Vesak Day for Theravada Buddhists (consisting mostly of Singapore’s Burmese and Sri Lankan communities) is to cook a pot of rice in milk. This symbolises the last meal Buddha ate before his fast during the journey to his enlightenment.
Most Buddhists in Singapore will only eat vegetarian meals for the day (before the circuit breaker, some temples will have free vegetarian food such as fried bee hoon and vegetables). Fortunately, there are many non-meat options available for delivery – and not just from vegetarian eateries.
Most people often get the misconception that the Laughing Budai (pictured) is Buddha. The Laughing Budai is actually a jolly, Chinese monk. Friendly and content, he was known for patting his large belly and would often entertain the children that followed him. He represents contentment and abundance.
Vesak Day often ends with candle-lit processions through the streets in Singapore – though not this year. At one such procession from Phor Kark See Temple, you’d be able to see Buddhists practise the two-hour ‘three-step, one-bow’ ritual, where devotees take steps on both knees and bow at every third step. This ritual is intended to purify all three karmas – body, mind, speech – at one time.
By Pinky Chng & Cheryl Lim / Updated May 2020
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