Vesak Day is a time of joy, peace, and reflection to celebrate the birth, enlightenment, and death of Gautama Buddha. Festivities for Vesak Day – which this year falls on 7 May – begin at the crack of dawn in Singapore as devout Buddhists congregate at temples for a ceremony to hoist the Buddhist flag and sing hymns in praise of the Buddha, the Dharma (his teachings), and the Sangha (his disciples).
Only vegetarian meals are eaten on Vesak Day, while offerings of flowers, candles, and joss sticks are also brought to the temples. The slow-burning of the candles and joss sticks and the withering of the flowers remind worshippers of the fleeting and transient nature of life, that all things decay and eventually pass away. The rest of the day is spent devoting time to worthy causes, as followers believe that performing good deeds on Vesak Day will multiply merit. These include mass blood donations at hospitals, visiting homes for the aged, or distribute gifts of cash to the needy. Others release caged birds and animals, a symbol of liberation for Buddhists, or spend hours chanting mantras.
Statues of the Buddha are illuminated, and the day often ends with candlelight processions through the streets. Visitors to Singapore can head to Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery on Bright Hill Road for a peek at one such procession. Here you’ll see devotees practise the two-hour-long ‘three-step, one-bow’ ritual, taking steps on both knees and bowing at every third step as they pray for world peace, personal blessings, and repentance.