Celebrating the Festival of Vesak in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka the month of May brings with it shifting seasons; namely, thundering South West monsoon rains,the calling of the seas in the East Coast, and the commemoration of the birth, enlightenment, and death of Gautama Buddha during Vesāk, which this year falls on the Full Moon Day of 10th May, and celebrations are continued to the Day after Full Moon.

Almost overnight, Colombo transforms into a glamorous and sparkly seaside capital, with every corner of the city dressed in lights, lanterns, ‘thoranas’ (pandals) and dansals (free food stalls), which attract thousands of Buddhist devotees from all parts of the island.

While travelers to Sri Lanka shift their gaze towards the island’s East C oast, which now become flat and glass-like, or to Arugam Bay for world class surfing, the onset of the South West monsoon begins usually over the days leading and following Vesāk. 

celebrating the sri lanka festival of vesak at living heritage koslanda
Vesak Lantern Making at Living Heritage Koslanda

 

Traditionally observed by Buddhists across Asia and other parts of the world, Vesāk festivities in Sri Lanka remains a colourful, religious and cultural festival, one of the most looked forward to festivals in the Buddhist calendar. It takes place on the full moon of the lunar month of Vesāk. Over two days local inhabitants enjoy the two day holiday, it’s a time for family and friends to get together, but do remember that over this period the sale of alcohol  is prohibited!

Past to Present:

Although festivals like Vesak in the Buddhist world are a centuries-old tradition, it was only in 1950 that Sri Lanka officially agreed to celebrate Vesāk as the Buddha’s ‘birthday’. As Buddhism spread from India over 2500 years ago, it was assimilated into many foreign cultures. Today Vesāk is celebrated in many different ways all over the world. Celebrations include religious and ‘alms’-giving activities; electrically-lit pandals called ‘thoranas’ are erected in the towns of main cities, most sponsored by donors, religious societies and welfare groups. Each pandal illustrates a story from the Jataka tales (550 past life stories of the Buddha). In addition, colourful lanterns called Vesāk ‘kuudu’ are hung along streets and in front of homes.

Sri Lankan Festival Food:

Food stalls set up by Buddhist devotees called dansälas provide free food and drinks to passersby; while traditionally, the food and drink provided were rice and curry or fresh juices, today, offerings include everything from ice cream cones to pickles; it makes for the best time to escape Colombo, as it experiences a massive influx of people from all parts of the country.

Vesak at Living Heritage Koslanda: 

Here at Living Heritage Koslanda, guests help us celebrate by making lanterns with the staff – a great activity for kids in Sri Lanka, as they create their own lanterns, and then seeing the end result being lit up at night. Of course guests can visit the local Buddhist Temple where local devotees will visit in droves to give prayers of thanks for the year just been, and offerings for a blessed year ahead. Usually it is a time for families and friends to really gather together and enjoy spending time at our Sri Lanka eco resort, exploring the nature trails, eating delicious Sri Lanka cuisine and enjoying a respite from the pre-monsoon heat of the south west up in the hills of the east.