Sri Lankan's celebrate the birthday, death and enlightenment of the Buddha during a three day festival throughout the island. During the full moon at the end of May Buddhist in Sri Lanka and around the world celebrated Gautama Buddha.
During the full moon at the end of May Buddhist in Sri Lanka and around the world celebrated Gautama Buddha the founder of the world’s third largest religion. Temples and streets throughout the country were decorated and in a festive mood. Many people went on pilgrimages to temples and flocked to bigger cities while shops remained closed.
Buddhists believe that Buddha was born, achieved enlightenment and died on the same day. Sri Lanka which is the only Buddhist country next to Burma has been celebrating the Wesak (Festival of Light ) for many centuries.
The torrential rains which have replaced over two hundred thousand people in May had completely ceased during the three day festival.
Not only Buddhists enjoy the festivities - Hindus, Muslim and Christians also take part in the celebration. Sri Lanka which has been renowned for its religious tolerance shares this old tradition among its people.
On the night leading up to the Wesak, monks gathered in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka to recite verses from the teachings of the Buddha throughout the night. The sacred verses which are discourses in understanding the nature of the world and the mind create an unbroken linage between the monks of the 21st century and the Buddha. The verses are recited in Pali, the language of the Buddha which is related to Sanskrit. The president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, as well as a number of invited disabled soldiers joined the monks for part of the ceremony.
One of the major attractions during Wesak are the hundreds of different colored lights that flank the streets, house and temples. The lights represent wisdom that Buddha brought to the world of men showing a way to dispel darkness and to free oneself from suffering.
Around the Beira Lake in central Colombo a large exhibtion of the most marvellous lights showcased the artistry of the multitude of designs. The lights have been constructed by Universities, Schools and Government Organizations. Every light has a unique design ranging from small delicate paper cut outs to grand sculptures telling epic stories from the Buddhas life.
Cultural programs were held throughout the city showcasing music and dance that displayed Buddhist culture and its values. Young man were dancing around the streets and blowing whistles.
Lorries filled with people from villages of the far corners of Sri Lanka come for the Wesak festival. For many children and adults alike it is a highlight of the year.
A tourist Bus company offered the first Wesak bus tour this year from the top of a double decker. The much publicized event sold out on all three nights offering an exclusive view of the festival.
Large light installations with numerous panels flashing in bright colors through the night told the stories of the the life of Buddha. People listened intently to the tales of the young prince Siddharta who left his royal heritage behind looking for the end of suffering which he found under a Bodhi tree in Bodgaya, India. Speakers along the streets amplified the stories while the lights of the huge panels highlighted the current story frame.
A visit to the temple to offer some money and a prayer is also part of the tradition. Young and old monks in orange robes stood near the shrine of the temple waving their fans to get some relieve from the heat while welcoming visitors with a friendly glance.
Due to the large number of people visiting the central places in Colombo the infrastructure that is already over capacity during normal days became impossible to navigate. Traffic came to a complete halt down stretches of Goal road where people celebrate on the green at the Goal Face Ocean front.
On the streets small tents were erected where food was distributed freely to visitors and locals alike. Long lines of people where waiting in different parts of the city to receive the food. Snacks and drinks were also distributed on the streets by different organizations putting the joy of giving, a Buddhist principle into practice.