Buddha Poornima, which falls on the full moon night in the month of
Vaisakha (either in April or May), commemorates the birth anniversary of Lord Buddha, founder of Buddhism, one of the oldest
religions in the world. He is considered the ninth avatar of Vishnu.
The three most significant events in the life of Gautama Buddha occurred on the same day.
About Gautam Buddha
Gautam Buddha lived and died in about the fifth century before the Christian era. He belonged to the Sakya clan of the Kshatriya or
warrior caste. Legend has it that on the full moon day of Vaishakh 544 BC, the
Buddha’s mother, Queen Mahamaya, happened to be on her way fromthe capital Kapilavastu to her parents home in Devdaha. During the
journey she stopped under the shade of two sal trees at Lumbini, where she gave birth to the Buddha. When she returned to
Kapilavastu, an old sanyasi named Asit, who was also the court astrologer, came to the palace and predicted that the child would
redeem the world.
The child was named Siddhartha. But even after enlightenment he was better known by his clan name— Gautam the Buddha or Gautam thewise. Gautam was brought up by his mother’s sister who was also his
stepmother as his mother died soon after his birth.
Gautam was a serious-minded child who instead of playing with other children would sit alone, lost in his own thoughts. When Prince
Gautam came of age, his father arranged his marriage to the beautiful Princess Yashodhara and saw to it the prince was kept
occupied with diverse amusements and pleasures of life. None of
these, however, succeeded in diverting Gautam’s mind from itsquest for truth.
Though Prince Gautam was a Kshatriya, he never hunted and instead tried to protect animals and birds. There were other things about
the world that began to trouble Gautam. One day, when passing through a street, he saw a man who was so old that he could not
walk. Another day, he saw a very sick man lying unconscious on the
ground. He asked himself, "What is pain? Why is there so much pain and suffering in the world? Is there a way of avoiding these?"
Then Gautam came across an ascetic who looked so calm that he seemed to have found the answers to the problems of old age, sickness and
death. Gautam decided to renounce the world and become an ascetic.
He discarded his royal robes, snipped off his long curling tresses and went out into the dark night to seek the light of knowledge.
Gautam went from one religious center to another and from one hermitage to the next seeking in vain answers to his questions.
Finally in a forest at the edge of the river Niranjana near Gaya, Gautam practiced meditation and penance for six years yet nothing
happened. He then realized that enlightenment could not come through
mortifying the flesh. That very day a woman named Sujata offered him a bowl of kheer and a grass cutter gave him a stack of grass to
sleep on. Gautam accepted both these gifts. He then took his seat under a Bodhi tree and resolved to stay there until he found the
answers to his questions.
One Vaishakh full moon night, he found the answers to the four truths of life-the existence of pain and suffering, their causes,
the need to overcome them and the means of doing so. Thus, he became Gautam the Buddha or the Enlightened One on his thirty-fifth
From Gaya, the Buddha proceeded to Sarnath near Varanasi. Here five men became his disciples. He taught them the truths he had
discovered and formed the first sangh or community. Thereafter, he traveled far and wide preaching the truth and gained a large
following consisting of scholars, sanyasis, kings and their ministers. He also went to his home as a bhikshuor monk. His father,
stepmother, wife and son joined his sangh. In 483 BC, on the same day that he was born, and had attained enlightenment, the Buddha
attained "Nirvana" - free from birth and endless reincarnation.
Pilgrims come from all over the world to Bodh Gaya to attend the Buddha Poornima celebrations. The day is marked with prayer meets, sermons on the life of Gautam Buddha, religious discourses, continuous recitation of Buddhist scriptures, group meditation, processions, worship of the statue of Buddha and symposia. The Mahabodhi Temple wears a festive look and is decorated with colourful flags and flowers. Celebration of this festival has been recorded by the Chinese scholar, Fa-Hien.
On this day the Buddhists bathe and wear only white clothes. They
gather in their viharas for worship and give alms to monks. Many
spend their entire day at the vihara listening to discourses on the
life and teachings of the Buddha or invite monks to their homes.
They also reaffirm their faith in the five principles called
1. not to take life
2. not to steal
3. not to lie
4. not to consume liquor or other intoxicants
5. not to commit adultery
On Buddha Purnima, Buddhists refrain from eating meat and eat kheer or rice cooked in milk and sugar, which they share with the poor.
They set up stalls in public places to offer others clean drinking water and also show kindness to animals.