Buddha Purnima is celebrated to mark the birth, enlightenment and salvation of Gautham Buddha. Celebrations are held every year at most Buddhist sites and pilgrims from around the world throng to Sarnath. Since it falls on a full moon night, the festival is called Buddha Purnima in India. Day-long prayers along with free medical camps for the poor are held during this day. In the evening, lamps are lit at the Bodhi Tree, and other significant places. Devotees place the statue of Buddha in a basin filled with water and flowers symbolising the divinity of his teachings. With vegetarian delicacies, hymns and offerings such as candles, flowers and incense; the auspicious day of Buddha Purnima is celebrated with much fervour.
Buddha Purnima 2019 - Dates
Following the traditional Indian calendar to mark the date of Buddha Purnima on the full moon of the month of Vaisakh, the day falls on different dates of the Gregorian calendar every year. Though the exact dates vary, it almost always falls in April or May. The next Mahotsav at Sarnath, i.e. the next occasion of Buddha Purnima is expected to take place on Sunday, twelfth of May, 2019.
The Venue of Buddha Purnima Mahotsav
The annual Buddha Purnima Mahotsav is held at Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh. Sarnath is not an urban centre but has a railway station of its own by the same name. It is connected with other major cities of the country, although not all trains stop here owing to the fact that it is a very small railway station. It is located approximately at a distance of eight hundred kilometers from Delhi. The other nearest railway station is Varanasi Cantt., which is a major railway station situated at a distance of about ten kilometers from Sarnath. The nearest airport is the Varanasi Airport which is approximately 25 kilometers away.
About Buddha Purnima Mahotsav
Celebrated in the full-moon day of the month of Vaisakh of the Indian calendar; it generally falls in April or May of the Western Gregorian calendar. The day is commemorated with a grand celebration at Sarnath in Varanasi one of the four major sites from the life of Buddha, whereas Lumbini, Bodh Gaya, and Kusinagara are the other three. The event is marked, among other things, by sermons, free medical camps, and offerings of fruits, flowers, and candles made by devotees to idols of the Buddha.
The History of Buddha Purnima at Sarnath
Siddhartha Gautama, son of the chieftain of the Shakya clan, was born in Lumbini - in modern-day Nepal - in or around fifth century BCE. The story of his enlightenment; of his renounce and sacrifices; and his transformation from Prince Siddhartha to the Buddha continues to inspire people to this day. The mighty mystic became the establisher of the religion of Buddhism - an ideology which once dominated the minds of the major section of the population of the Indian subcontinent. Though the number of followers of the Buddhist faith has witnessed a decline over time, the important dates, the festivals, and the pilgrim sites continue to hold significance even today. One such event is known as Buddha Purnima, marking the date of birth, the enlightenment, and the Nirvana of the Buddha.
The grand celebration of Buddha Purnima at Sarnath does not have a very long history. The first ever august solemnization on the occasion of Buddha Purnima known as 'Mahotsav' took place in the year 1998. Organized by the Uttar Pradesh Tourism department and the Ministry of Tourism of Government of India for the first time, it was more of a cultural event than an event has its roots in the faith and traditions. Though the primary aim was to promote tourism in the state, the annual Mahotsav has given the festival of Buddha Purnima a glory much deserved. Since the year 1998, the grand festival has continually been organized each year.
How is Buddha Purnima Celebrated?
The fact that Sarnath is believed to be the place where Buddha gave his first sermon makes it one of the most important sites among the devotees. Apart from Sarnath, Mahotsavas are also organized in other Buddhist sites in India such as Bodh Gaya, and abroad. Buddhist scriptures are read, and the monks deliver sermons to ordinary people. The relics of the Buddha are taken out in processions which are attended by Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. The whole of Sarnath is decorated, which naturally captivates the visitors. The Mahotsav at Sarnath has become so dominant an attraction that Buddhists from all over the world come to join it, with the veneration of a pilgrimage. Conforming to the message of peace and selflessness, a free medical camp was also organized the last time. Congregational prayers and meditations are held across various Buddhist temples across the land.
The Significance of Buddha Mahotsav at Sarnath
With the continuous decline in the number of Buddhists in the country, the culture has witnessed a setback. In such a situation, an annual gathering which attracts even people of other faiths is a way to preserve the culture and its message. Though the Buddha is believed to have renounced all forms of rituals in his lifetime, the followers of Buddhism - as in case of any other religion - have been deriving rituals from their local customs and traditions. The amalgamation of the 'central' and the 'local' form the core of any community with a belief system. The same is expressed in celebration of the Buddha Purnima Mahotsav at Sarnath where the birth and Nirvana of the Buddha is celebrated in ways which the devotees deem fit. The practice, intentionally or otherwise, helps in the preservation of the ideas as well as their expansion.