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

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong acknowledging the crowd as he enters the Singapore Indoor Stadium with Venerable Seck Kwang Phing (left), president of the Singapore Buddhist Federation (SBF), for a Vesak Day and SG50 concert organised by the Singapore
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong acknowledging the crowd as he enters the Singapore Indoor Stadium with Venerable Seck Kwang Phing (left), president of the Singapore Buddhist Federation (SBF), for a Vesak Day and SG50 concert organised by the Singapore Buddhist Federation. -- ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
Performers at a concert on May 15, 2015, organised by the Singapore Buddhist Federation to celebrate SG50 and Vesak Day. More than 6,000 people attended the concert, where some 600 performers staged art, song and dance acts. -- ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG P
Performers at a concert on May 15, 2015, organised by the Singapore Buddhist Federation to celebrate SG50 and Vesak Day. More than 6,000 people attended the concert, where some 600 performers staged art, song and dance acts. -- ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
More than 10,000 Buddhist devotees gathered at Hougang Stadium on May 24, 2015, as they held lotus-shaped candles and prayed for peace in the lead up to Vesak day on June 1. National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who is Buddhist, joined the pro
More than 10,000 Buddhist devotees gathered at Hougang Stadium on May 24, 2015, as they held lotus-shaped candles and prayed for peace in the lead up to Vesak day on June 1. National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who is Buddhist, joined the procession.  -- PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO
More than 10,000 Buddhist devotees gathered at Hougang Stadium on May 24, 2015, as they held lotus-shaped candles and prayed for peace in the lead up to Vesak day on June 1. National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who is Buddhist, joined the pro
More than 10,000 Buddhist devotees gathered at Hougang Stadium on May 24, 2015, as they held lotus-shaped candles and prayed for peace in the lead up to Vesak day on June 1. National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who is Buddhist, joined the procession.  -- PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO
More than 10,000 Buddhist devotees gathered at Hougang Stadium on May 24, 2015, as they held lotus-shaped candles and prayed for peace in the lead up to Vesak day on June 1. National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who is Buddhist, joined the pro
More than 10,000 Buddhist devotees gathered at Hougang Stadium on May 24, 2015, as they held lotus-shaped candles and prayed for peace in the lead up to Vesak day on June 1. National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who is Buddhist, joined the procession.  -- PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO
More than 10,000 Buddhist devotees gathered at Hougang Stadium on May 24, 2015, as they held lotus-shaped candles and prayed for peace in the lead up to Vesak day on June 1. National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who is Buddhist, joined the pro
More than 10,000 Buddhist devotees gathered at Hougang Stadium on May 24, 2015, as they held lotus-shaped candles and prayed for peace in the lead up to Vesak day on June 1. National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who is Buddhist, joined the procession.  -- PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

This story was first published on May 12, 2014, and updated on May 25, 2015. 

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