Buddhist festivals – The profound influence on various cultures
Table of Contents
- 1 - The influence of Buddhism in Asian cultures
- 2 - Buddhist festivals around the world
- 2.1 - Kathina
- 2.2 - Buddhist calendar
- 2.3 - Buddha’s Birthday
- 2.4 - Vesak
- 2.5 - Vassa
- 2.6 - Songkran
- 2.7 - Sanghamitta
- 2.8 - Pavarana
- 2.9 - Uposatha
- 2.10 - Tsagaan Sar
- 2.11 - Royal Ploughing Ceremony
- 2.12 - Pagoda festival
- 2.13 - Parinirvana Day
- 2.14 - Mid-Autumn Festival
- 2.15 - Liberation Rite of Water and Land
- 2.16 - Guru Purnima
- 2.17 - Gunla Bajan
- 2.18 - Ghost Festival
- 2.19 - Diwali
- 2.20 - Cheung Chau Bun Festival
- 2.21 - Water Festival
The influence of Buddhism in Asian cultures
Buddhist philosophy, Buddhist art, Buddhist architecture, Buddhist cuisine and Buddhist festivals continue to be influential elements of the modern Culture of Asia, especially in East Asia but also in Southeast Asia.
For instance, Japanese, Burmese, Tibetan, Indian, Nepalese, Bhutanese, Chakma, Marma and Barua festivals often show the influence of Buddhist culture.
The Pagoda festival in Myanmar is one example and the traditional cham dance In Tibet, India and Bhutan is another.
Lunar New Year festivals of Buddhist countries in east, south and southeast Asia also include some aspects of Buddhist culture, but they are considered cultural festivals as opposed to religious ones.
Buddhist festivals around the world
This is a list of Buddhist festivals organized by various Buddhist communities around the world.
Kathina is a Buddhist festival which comes at the end of Vassa, the three-month rainy season retreat for Theravada Buddhists in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. The season during which a monastery may hold Kathina is one month long, beginning after the full moon of the eleventh month in the Lunar calendar.
The Buddhist calendar is a set of lunisolar calendars primarily used in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand as well as in Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam by Chinese populations for religious or official occasions.
While the calendars share a common lineage, they also have minor but important variations such as intercalation schedules, month names and numbering, use of cycles, etc.
In Thailand, the name Buddhist Era is a year numbering system shared by the traditional Thai lunisolar calendar and by the Thai solar calendar.
Buddha’s Birthday is a Buddhist festival that is celebrated in most of East Asia and South Asia commemorating the birth of the Prince Siddhartha Gautama, later the Gautama Buddha, who was the founder of Buddhism. According to Buddhist tradition, Gautama Buddha was born c. 563–483 BCE in Lumbini, Nepal.
Vesak, also known as Buddha Jayanti, Buddha Purnima and Buddha Day, is a holiday traditionally observed by Buddhists in South Asia and Southeast Asia as well as Tibet and Mongolia. The festival commemorates the birth, enlightenment (Nibbāna), and death (Parinirvāna) of Gautama Buddha in Theravada, Tibetan Buddhism and Navayana.
The Vassa is the three-month annual retreat observed by Theravada practitioners.
Taking place during the wet season, Vassa lasts for three lunar months, usually from July to October.
Songkran is a term derived from the Sanskrit word, saṅkrānti and used to refer to the traditional New Year celebrated in Bangladesh, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, parts of northeast India, parts of Vietnam and Xishuangbanna, China. It begins when the sun transits the constellation of Aries, the first astrological sign in the Zodiac, as reckoned by sidereal astrology. It is related to the equivalent Hindu calendar-based New Year festivals in most parts of South Asia which are collectively referred to as Mesha Sankranti.
Saṅghamittā was the eldest daughter of Emperor Ashoka and his first wife, Devi. Together with her brother Mahinda, she entered an order of Buddhist monks. The two siblings later went to Sri Lanka to spread the teachings of Buddha at the request of King Devanampiya Tissa who was a contemporary of Ashoka. Ashoka was initially reluctant to send his daughter on an overseas mission. However, because of the insistence of Sangamitra herself, he finally agreed. She was sent to Sri Lanka together with several other nuns to start the nun-lineage of Bhikkhunis at the request of King Tissa to ordain queen Anulā and other women of Tissa’s court at Anuradhapura who desired to be ordained as nuns after Mahindra converted them to Buddhism.
Pavarana is a Buddhist holy day celebrated on Aashvin full moon of the lunar month.
It marks the end of the 3 lunar months of Vassa, sometimes called “Buddhist Lent.”
The day is marked in some Asian countries where Theravada Buddhism is practiced.
On this day, each monk must come before the community of monks (Sangha) and atone for an offense he may have committed during the Vassa.
The Uposatha is a Buddhist day of observance, in existence from the Buddha’s time, and still being kept today by Buddhist practitioners.
The Buddha taught that the Uposatha day is for “the cleansing of the defiled mind,” resulting in inner calm and joy.
On this day, both lay and ordained members of the sangha intensify their practice, deepen their knowledge and express communal commitment through millennia-old acts of lay-monastic reciprocity.
On these days, the lay followers make a conscious effort to keep the Five Precepts or the ten precepts. It is a day for practicing the Buddha’s teachings and meditation.
The Mongolian Lunar New Year, commonly known as Tsagaan Sar, is the first day of the year according to the Mongolian lunisolar calendar.
The festival of the Lunar New Year is celebrated by the Mongols and some Turkic peoples.
The holiday has shamanistic influences.
Royal Ploughing Ceremony
The Royal Ploughing Ceremony, also known as The Ploughing Festival, is an ancient royal rite held in many Asian countries to mark the traditional beginning of the rice growing season. The royal ploughing ceremony, called Lehtun Mingala or Mingala Ledaw (မင်္ဂလာလယ်တော်), was also practiced in pre-colonial Burma until 1885 when the monarchy was abolished.
Pagoda festivals are regular festivals found throughout Burma (Myanmar) that commemorate major events in pagoda’s history, including the founding of a pagoda and the crowning of the pagoda’s hti (umbrella). Pagoda festivals are dictated by the Burmese religious calendar and often are held several days at a time. Major events in a pagoda festival typically do not coincide with Uposatha days, during which devout Buddhists observe the Eight Precepts. The majority of pagoda festivals are held during the dry season, from the months of Tazaungmon (November) to Tabaung (March). During the full moon day of Tabaung, Buddhist devotees in various parts of Myanmar also celebrate sand pagoda festivals.
Parinirvana Day, or Nirvana Day is a Mahayana Buddhist holiday celebrated in East Asia, Vietnam and the Philippines. By some it is celebrated on 8 February, but by most on the 15 February. In Bhutan, it is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the fourth month of the Bhutanese calendar. It celebrates the day when the Buddha is said to have achieved Parinirvana, or complete Nirvana, upon the death of his physical body.
The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival or Mooncake Festival, is a traditional festival celebrated in Chinese culture. Similar holidays are celebrated in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and other countries in East and Southeast Asia.
Liberation Rite of Water and Land
The Liberation Rite of Water and Land is a Chinese Buddhist ritual performed by temples and presided over by high monks.
The service is often credited as one of the greatest rituals in Chinese Buddhism, as it is also the most elaborate and requires the labor of monastics and temple staff and the financial funding of lay Buddhist sponsors.
The ceremony is attributed to the Emperor Wu of Liang, who was inspired one night when he had a dream which a monk advised him to organize a ceremony to help all beings living on land and in the seas to be surfeited from their suffering, hence the name of the rite.
The ritual itself was compiled by the Chan Buddhist master Bao Zhi.
Guru Purnima (Poornima) is a tradition dedicated to all the spiritual and academic Gurus, who are evolved or enlightened humans, ready to share their wisdom, based on Karma Yoga. It is celebrated as a festival in India, Nepal and Bhutan by Hindus, Jains and Buddhists. This festival is traditionally observed to honour one’s chosen spiritual teachers or leaders. It is observed on the Full Moon day (Purnima) in the Hindu month of Ashadha (June–July) as it is known in the Hindu Calendar. The festival was revived by Mahatma Gandhi to pay tribute to his spiritual guru, Shrimad Rajchandra. It is also known as Vyasa Purnima, for it marks the birthday of Veda Vyasa, the sage who authored the Mahabharata and compiled the Vedas.
Gunlā Bājan is devotional music played by the Newars of Nepal. “Gunla” is the name of the tenth month in the Nepal Sambat calendar, which corresponds to August in the Gregorian calendar and “bajan” means “music” and “music playing group”.
The Ghost Festival, also known as the Zhongyuan Festival in Taoism and Yulanpen Festival in Buddhism, is a traditional Taoist and Buddhist festival held in certain East Asian countries. According to the Chinese calendar, the Ghost Festival is on the 15th night of the seventh month.
Diwali is a festival of lights and one of the major festivals celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and some Buddhists. The festival usually lasts five days and is celebrated during the Hindu lunisolar month Kartika. One of the most popular festivals of Hinduism, Diwali symbolizes the spiritual “victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance”. The festival is widely associated with Lakshmi, goddess of prosperity and Ganesha, god of wisdom and the remover of obstacles, with many other regional traditions connecting the holiday to Sita and Rama, Vishnu, Krishna, Durga, Shiva, Kali, Hanuman, Kubera, Yama, Yami, Dhanvantari, or Vishvakarman. Furthermore, it is a celebration of the day Rama returned to his kingdom in Ayodhya with his wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana after defeating the demon Ravana in Lanka and serving 14 years of exile.
Cheung Chau Bun Festival
Cheung Chau Bun Festival or Cheung Chau Da Jiu Festival is a traditional Chinese festival on the island of Cheung Chau in Hong Kong. Held annually, and with therefore the most public exposure, it is by far the most famous of such Da Jiu festivals, with Jiu being a Taoist sacrificial ceremony. Such events are held by mostly rural communities in Hong Kong, either annually or at a set interval of years ranging all the way up to once every 60 years. Other places that may share the folk custom include Taiwan, Sichuan, Fujian and Guangdong.
The Water Festival is the New Year’s celebrations that take place in Southeast Asian nations such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand as well as among the Dai people of China. It is called the ‘Water Festival’ by Westerners because they notice people splashing or pouring water at one another as part of the cleansing ritual to welcome the New Year. Traditionally people gently sprinkled water on one another as a sign of respect, but as the new year falls during the hottest month in South East Asia, many people end up dousing strangers and passers-by in vehicles in boisterous celebration. The act of pouring water is also a show of blessings and good wishes. It is believed that at this Water Festival, everything old must be thrown away, or it will bring the owner bad luck.