In the heart of Colombo, the National Vesak Festival, Buddha Rashmi Pooja sets the tone for the grandest of celebrations with a weeklong programme carefully curated by the Gangaramaya Temple. At night on May 21 a simple ceremony at the brightly decorated Seema Malaka will see the lights come on and continue to dazzle till May 25, 2016.
This time sacred relics including the relics found during excavations of the ancient Neelagiri Stupa in the Eastern Province will be displayed for public viewing at Temple Trees. The Prime Minister himself is in discussions to have the Buddha’s sacred relics flown in to the country for the exposition.
“Buddha Rashmi Pooja is a national festival that brings everyone together. A hallmark of the event is the participation of people from different ethnicities and religious beliefs,” says Ven Kirinde Assaji Thero of the Gangaramaya Temple, which started organising the event at a time when Colombo saw a rapid decline in Buddhist tradition due to terrorism. Buddha Rashmi Pooja was in fact a brain child of the Chief Incumbent the temple, Ven Galaboda Gnanissara thero.
Renowned for a culture of great workmanship and creativity passed down from ancient times, Sri Lanka has a unique selection of decoration associated with Vesak, all focusing on illumination. The commonest form of Vesak lantern is the ‘bucket’, which is a bucket-shaped paper lamp with a candle stuck at its bottom.
Lantern competitions adorn the sidewalks of Colombo and the suburbs, illuminated electrically, the painstaking labour of a single man or teams of youngsters to create the most convincing lantern depicting a milestone in Buddha’s life. Alluring prizes will honour the best creations. As Buddhists across the world celebrate Vesak in their own unique way, the Embassies and High Commissions of countries such as India, Cambodia and Thailand that
celebrate Vesak are having a special display with their own customary Vesak decorations.
Along the Beira Lake, three large platforms will showcase cultural performances. Decorative hoardings known as ‘Thorana’ are structures erected at important sites. Reffered to in English as a Pandol, they are facades
of paintings depicting the life of Buddha, illustrating accounts from his many lives. Often professional commentators describe in verse the scenes or stories depicted from dusk to dawn.
Another exciting part of Buddha Rashmi Pooja are the dansal. The practice of giving is a cardinal virtue in Buddhism. It is connected with the idea of ‘renunciation’, of giving up worldly possessions in order to gradually eliminate ‘craving’, the root cause of suffering according to Buddhist teaching.
School children,various government and private establishments have their own Bakthi Geetha chorales dressed in white, singing songs of veneration on stage, at special recitals or travelling from one place to another, much to the delight of the audience. The Navy choral will sing off an elaborate barge afloat on the Beira Lake.
Thus, the festival of Vesak provides the opportunity for Buddhists in Sri Lanka to give creative expression to their religious and cultural ideals though a gamut of traditional activities. It is an important national event that strengthens faith and reaffirms commitment to the principles of kindness, peace and tolerance.