Budh Purnima: Celebrating the Enlightened One

Buddha Purnima, also known as Vesak or Buddha Jayanti, is one of the most important festivals in the Buddhist calendar and is celebrated on the full moon day in the month of Vaishakha (April/May) to commemorate the birth, enlightenment, and death of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. The festival is observed not just by Buddhists in Asia, but also by Buddhists around the world, and it is celebrated with great reverence and enthusiasm. The day is marked by processions, prayers, and offerings at Buddhist temples and shrines, as well as by charitable acts and donations. While the celebrations for Buddha Purnima vary from country to country and community to community, they all share a common goal: to honor the Buddha and his teachings and to seek blessings and guidance on their path to enlightenment.


The Significance Of The Day



Buddha was born on a full moon day of Vaishakha which is known as Buddha Purnima and is of  great spiritual significance for Buddhists around the world. It marks the birth of the Buddha, who was born as Prince Siddhartha Gautama in Lumbini, Nepal, over 2,500 years ago. The day of Buddha Purnima is also significant as it marks the day when the Buddha achieved enlightenment, which is known as Bodhi, under the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, India.

It is believed that the Buddha meditated under the Bodhi tree for several days until he achieved enlightenment and understood the true nature of existence. Buddha Purnima also commemorates the death of the Buddha, also known as Mahaparinirvana. It is believed that the Buddha passed away on the full moon day of Vaishakha at the age of 80 in Kushinagar, India. This event is considered significant as the Buddha's death marked his ultimate release from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, and his attainment of Nirvana.


How is Buddha Purnima Celebrated?


Buddhist Monks carry a statue of Buddha as they take part in a procession at The Mahabodi Temple at Bodhgaya (Source: Scroll.in)


The festivities usually begin with prayers and meditation at Buddhist temples and monasteries, where devotees seek blessings from the Buddha. In many countries, including India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, Buddha Purnima is a public holiday, and people take part in processions and parades carrying Buddhist flags and singing hymns in praise of the Buddha. 

The day is also marked by offerings of flowers, fruits, and candles at Buddhist shrines and temples. Some devotees choose to observe fasts or perform acts of charity, such as donating food, clothes, or money to the poor and needy. In addition to these traditional customs, the celebrations for Buddha Purnima vary widely depending on the region. For instance, in Thailand, elaborate decorations, lanterns, and light displays are a prominent feature of Vesak, and Buddhists also release caged birds and animals as a symbolic act of freedom and compassion. 


Vesak commemorations in Burma (wanderlust.co.uk)


Across all of these different customs and traditions, the underlying goal of the celebrations remains the same: to honour the Buddha and his teachings and to seek blessings and guidance on the path to enlightenment.

In many Buddhist countries, special vegetarian meals are prepared on this day as a way to honour the Buddha’s teachings on non-violence and compassion to all living beings. Music is also an important part of the celebrations. Devotional songs and hymns in praise of the Buddha are sung, and traditional instruments such as the gongs and cymbals are played. In some countries, such as Sri Lanka, Thailand and Korea amongst many others, special musical performances are organised on this day.


Buddha Purnima is a time for joyous festivities, and people take part in processions and parades carrying Buddhist flags, banners, and lanterns. Some Buddhists also observe the Eight Precepts, which involve abstaining from meat, alcohol, and other indulgences. In addition to the traditional celebrations, many Buddhists use Buddha Purnima as an opportunity to reflect on the Buddha's teachings and apply them to their own lives. The Buddha's teachings, also known as the Dharma, are based on the Four Noble Truths, which outline the nature of suffering and the path to liberation from it. Buddhists believe that by following the Eightfold Path, which includes principles such as right understanding, right intention, and right action, they can achieve enlightenment and liberation from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.


A Panorama of Regional Traditions


Buddha Purnima, celebrated by over 8.4 million Buddhists across India, showcases diverse regional customs and traditions. Let's explore the vibrant celebrations that take place in different parts of the country:


Tibetan and Indian Buddhists celebrate Buddha Purnima at monastery in Shimla (Source: ANI)


  1. Leh Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir: Monasteries like Hemis Monastery and Thiksey Monastery in Leh Ladakh come alive during Buddha Purnima. Religious ceremonies, masked dances, and colourful processions fill the air. Monks dressed in vibrant robes perform Cham dances, symbolizing the triumph of good over evil. Locals and tourists immerse themselves in the spiritual ambiance of the Himalayan region.
  2. Bodh Gaya, Bihar: Many Buddhists undertake a pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya, where the sacred Bodhi tree is located. On Buddha Purnima, devotees visit the Mahabodhi Temple complex and engage in meditation under the tree. The temple is beautifully adorned, and devotional chants resonate throughout the surroundings. Rituals and circumambulation of the temple complex in a clockwise direction are part of the sacred observances.
  3. Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh: Sarnath holds great historical and spiritual significance as the place where Buddha delivered his first sermon after attaining enlightenment. On Buddha Purnima, devotees gather at the ancient Dhamek Stupa in Sarnath for prayers and meditation. Monks and pilgrims from around the world participate in the festivities, creating a vibrant and multicultural atmosphere.
  4. Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh: Dharamshala, the residence of the Dalai Lama and the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile, is a significant center for Tibetan Buddhism. Buddha Purnima in Dharamshala is marked by grand ceremonies at the Tsuglagkhang Complex, including prayers, teachings by spiritual leaders, and colourful processions. Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns offer prayers and perform rituals, infusing the atmosphere with deep devotion and spirituality.
  5. Other Regions: West Bengal, Sikkim, Karnataka (Bylakuppe), and Tamil Nadu (Dharmapuri) also celebrate Buddha Purnima with great fervor. Sikkim, known for its strong Buddhist influence, hosts vibrant celebrations featuring colourful masked dances and elaborate rituals performed by the local monastic community. Bylakuppe in Karnataka, one of the largest Tibetan settlements in India, showcases a unique blend of Tibetan and Indian traditions during Buddha Purnima, with traditional music, dances, and teachings by esteemed Tibetan masters. Dharmapuri in Tamil Nadu attracts devotees to the renowned Vellore Golden Temple, a prominent Buddhist pilgrimage site in South India, where the birth, enlightenment, and passing of Lord Buddha are commemorated.

These celebrations reflect the rich tapestry of Buddhism in India, offering a diverse and culturally immersive experience for devotees and visitors alike.



Sparavigna, A. C. (2015). On the alignment of Sanchi monuments. Philica article, (543).





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