Vesak Festival in Sri Lanka

Hi guys, hope you are doing well. Today I’m going to talk about an area we haven’t talked about yet on this blog. That is religious and cultural festivals in Sri Lanka. What will be covered today is the largest religious festival in Sri Lanka. That is the Vesak Festival. Vesak Festival is the most important and most sacred festival for Buddhists around the world (Vesak is a Sinhalese term. Others are celebrating it with different names).

Vesak festival

What is Vesak Festival…?

First of all, let me explain what is Vesak Festival really is. Unlike Christmas, Vesak day doesn’t fall on a specific day of the year. Buddhists around the world celebrate Vesak on the full moon day of the month of May. Vesak day is the day when the most important three milestones of Lord Buddha’s life took place. Those are the Birth, Enlightenment and Parinirwana (death).

According to the Buddhist teachings, there two ways to worship Lord Buddha. They are the principle worshiping (following the path Lord Budda showed us to Nirwana) and the material worshiping. The real meaning of the Vesak festival is following the path Lord Buddha showed us towards Nirwana (principle worshiping). But over the time the material worshiping has become dominant in Vesak festival. That is why Vesak Festival is becoming more and more colourful each year.

There so many types of Vesak decorations, such as, Thorana (above image), large scale Vesak lanterns (mostly rotating), domestic Vesak lanterns, paper lanterns, oil lamps, flags, various decorations with light bulbs, etc. Further there are some other activities combined with Vesak. There are lots and lots of Dansals (alms-giving centers) everywhere, which provide us various types of foods and beverages. They are meant to satisfy the hunger and thirst of travellers who are watching Vesak. There are some Dansal which gives things other than food, such as, flowers. There are some places (not very often found) which demonstrate the hell and those are kind of scary.:D

The sad thing is the religious values of the Vesak festival are being diminished year by year. It is becoming more like a carnival for people, rather than a religious festival. They have made it just an opportunity to roam around and enjoy. That’s a whole another sad story, so let’s not go in there.

National Vesak Zone

Other than individual decorations, there are a lot of Vesak Zones in all around the country which is mostly sponsored by local governmental authorities and organizations. Among a number of Vesak Zones, in every year there is a National Vesak Zone in a certain area (mostly somewhere in Colombo city), patronized by central government and commercial parties. Today I’m going to show you the National Vesak Zone of 2017 which was placed at Gangarama Temple and Beira Lake.

Vesak festival in sri lanka

You might remember my previous post about the Seema Malaka of Gangarama temple (above picture). The National Vesak Zone was in that area.

Vesak decorations

lit up streets

The roads all around the zone were decorated with overhead bulbs and lanterns beautifully. There were a heavy traffic and a huge crowd in the area due to the Vesak Zone. I found it really difficult to take these photos sometimes due to this rush.

There was a Vesak lantern festival concurrent with the National Vesak Zone. A huge number of very creative and amazing lanterns were found there.

Vesak lanterns

Vesak festival in sri lanka

Vesak decorations

Unfortunately, I couldn’t take many pictures of those lanterns due the slight rain at the time.

There were lots of decorations on Beira Lake since it is the center of the Vesak Zone. Decorations on the Seema Malaka was really an eye catcher.

Vesak Festival in Sri Lanka

Vesak decorations

Vesak lanterns

There was a floating group of religious song singers (just like Carol) on the Beira Lake. They were on two heavily lit up boats. It was really unique and interesting thing to see.

vesak carols on water

Not only Sri Lankans, a number of foreigners also spotted observing the beauty of the National Vesak Zone.

foreigners enjoying vesak

There was another large Thorana in the area, but due to the rain I couldn’t capture it. An exhibition of sacred relics of Lord Buddha is also held simultaneously to the Vesak.

The Summer Hut in the middle of the Beira Lake is also heavily decorated with coloured light bulbs and it was amazingly beautiful.

Vesak festival decorations
Bridge of the Summer Hut

Vesak festival decorations

Vesak decorations in Sri Lanka
The Summer Hut decorated with coloured bulbs

There was a huge rush to enter into the Summer Hut area, but anyhow I managed to enter there. Since the roof of Summer Hut is transparent, it was amazing to go under that roof with all those bulbs.

Seema Malakaya
View of Seema Malaka from Summer Hut

Then I reached for ‘Seema Malaka’. It was also heavily crowded.

Vesak decorations in Seema Malakaya

Statues of lord buddha

The statues around the Seema Malaka were polished and decorated nicely. You might remember a previous image I shared at the same place. Note the difference.

Seema Malakaya

I could get a closer look of one of that floating singing group from there. They were from Sri Lanka Navy.

floating Vesak carol group

That was the most colourful and most beautiful Vesak Zone I have ever seen. It took a lot of time to cover the whole zone and it is totally worth it.

Vesak festival decorations

This was captured on the way home. It is beautiful, right?

To watch the complete set of (larger) images, visit the Image Gallery. Click below.

Image Gallery Banner

So that is about Vesak Festival and the National Vesak Zone 2017. If you have any doubts or queries please feel free to leave a comment below. In the next post I will bring you a ‘Poson Zone’ I covered. If you ask what is Poson, it is the second most important religious festival for Buddhists in Sri Lanka. See you in the next article.

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