Vesak Day: 5 things you should know about this Buddhist celebration

A temple worker hangs well wishes written by donors to lanterns outside the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple ahead of Vesak Day in Singapore on May 6, 2014. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS
A temple worker hangs well wishes written by donors to lanterns outside the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple ahead of Vesak Day in Singapore on May 6, 2014. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS
A man passes lanterns carrying well-wishes from devotees outside the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple ahead of Vesak Day in Singapore on May 6, 2014. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS
A man passes lanterns carrying well-wishes from devotees outside the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple ahead of Vesak Day in Singapore on May 6, 2014. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS
Amitabha Buddhist Centre puts up a 50ft thangka, or tapestry, depicting Amitabha Buddha with the Eight Great Bodhisattvas to mark Vesak Day. -- ST FILE PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN
Amitabha Buddhist Centre puts up a 50ft thangka, or tapestry, depicting Amitabha Buddha with the Eight Great Bodhisattvas to mark Vesak Day. -- ST FILE PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN
Amitabha Buddhist Centre puts up a 50ft thangka, or tapestry, depicting Amitabha Buddha with the Eight Great Bodhisattvas to mark Vesak Day. -- ST FILE PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN
Amitabha Buddhist Centre puts up a 50ft thangka, or tapestry, depicting Amitabha Buddha with the Eight Great Bodhisattvas to mark Vesak Day. -- ST FILE PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN
Minister for National Development, Mr Khaw Boon Wan (centre) and Mrs Khaw (left, yellow skirt), Venerable Kuan Yan (right), and thousands of devotees circumambulate the Hougang stadium on May 10, 2014, each holding a lotus-lamp. -- ST FILE PHOTO: SEA
Minister for National Development, Mr Khaw Boon Wan (centre) and Mrs Khaw (left, yellow skirt), Venerable Kuan Yan (right), and thousands of devotees circumambulate the Hougang stadium on May 10, 2014, each holding a lotus-lamp. -- ST FILE PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
Devotees bathe the Buddha after circumambulating the Hougang stadium on May 10, 2014, each holding a lotus-lamp. -- ST FILE PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
Devotees bathe the Buddha after circumambulating the Hougang stadium on May 10, 2014, each holding a lotus-lamp. -- ST FILE PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

1. The day commemorates the birth, enlightenment and nirvana of Siddharta Gautama Shakyamuni Buddha. It is celebrated by Buddhists around the world.

2. The date of Vesak Day varies around the world depending on the lunar calendars used in different cultures. Generally, in countries following the Western Gregorian calendar, it will happen in May, or June during leap years. However, in China, Japan and Korea, Vesak Day is celebrated on April 8.

3. On the day, Buddhists will usually visit their temples for ceremonies which will include prayers and offerings of candles and flowers. Other common rituals include bathing a Buddha statue, sharing in vegetarian meals as well as listening to teachings by monks.

4. Releasing caged birds and animals is a common practice. For Buddhists, it is a symbol of liberation. But in recent years, eco awareness has also resulted in more restraint. This year, the National Parks Board as well as the Buddhist Fellowship have advised against the practice, pointing out that most tame animals let into the wild might not survive and those animals that do survive might upset the ecosystem in the wild.

5. In Singapore, Vesak Day was made a public holiday only in 1955 after many public petitions. In the early decades of the 20th century, Vesak Day was associated with the Ceylonese community which then celebrated it along with their National Day in a two-day event. After World War II, there was a movement to make Vesak Day a public holiday, with the SIngapore Buddhist Association leading the petitions.

Sources: Singapore Infopedia