Funday Times - Our Heritage

A day at the temple

Gaveshaka describes activity during Vesak

Vesak - to be celebrated by Buddhists all over the world next Thursday - is the day in white. Devotees - young and old - clad in white trek to the temple early morning to observe 'ata sil' and spend the day there.

White is the symbol of simplicity. It is a neutral colour. The devotees carry baskets of white flowers -'araliya', 'pichcha' or some other variety - to be offered to the Buddha at the image house, the bo tree and the 'chaitya'.

Each temple has a planned programme of activities for the day. The programme begins with the observance of 'sil' around six in the morning when the 'loku hamuduruwo' - the chief monk will deliver precept by precept to be repeated by the devotees.

As on other Poya days, they will observe the eight precepts - three more than the normal 'pan sil', the five precepts observed as a rule every day. The monk will then deliver a short sermon on the significance of the day.

Vesak commemorates the birth of Prince Siddhartha, his leaving lay life and attaining Enlightenment as the Buddha and the passing away of the Buddha after 45 years of service to mankind.

While sermons on the teachings of the Buddha will be heard throughout the day, there will also be guided meditation and time for the devotees to meditate or read the Buddhist texts on their own. It has been the practice for an elderly person to relate a story from the Pansiya Panas Jathaka Potha - the book containing 550 Jathaka tales describing the previous lives of the Buddha.

Such reading was popular particularly at a time when the literacy level in the villages was rather low. There were only a few elderly persons who could read the text. One of them would gather the devotees round him and start reading aloud. Things have changed over the years but in some temples, the
practice continues.

The 'budha pooja' is offered to the Buddha with the participation of all devotees. Before the monks and those who had observed 'sil' sit for the morning alms ('heel daane') portion of the food is offered to the Buddha and placed in front of the statue in the 'budu ge', the image house.

The monk would recite the relevant stanzas for the offering of flowers, light (in the form of oil lamps that are lit) and incense (joss sticks which are lit).

The devotees repeat the stanzas. Before the mid-day alms too, the 'buddha pooja' is offered. In keeping with the rule that no solid food should be taken after noon when one observes 'sil' - practice that monks always follow - even the 'buddha pooja' in the evening is restricted to liquids.

The devotees renew 'sil' in the evening by observing the eight precepts once again. This means that they will continue with 'sil' until the next morning. Most of them will stay over in the temple till morning.

Vesak is a day of devotion and dedication to one's faith. The normal work that one indulges in is set aside and he or she would spend the whole day taking part in religious observances.

Vesak is also a festival of lights. In every temple hundreds of oil lamps - the traditional 'pol thel pahan' - are lit and arranged neatly throughout the temple premises. Even in homes either the 'pol thel pahan' are lit using coconut oil or Vesak lanterns using candles are lit.

The pandals are a special feature during Vesak. Erected at a strategic location, very often close to a junction so that people can find their way conveniently, the pandal is a feature of the festival of lights. Each
pandal depicts a story - mainly a Jathaka tale. The story is related over the public address system but often the beauty of the pandal is in the intricate system of lighting.

Another feature during Vesak is the 'dansela' where people are offered free food. Sheds are erected at convenient spots along the main roads and meals are given to all the passers-by.

In the old days it was rice and curry that was served but now there is variety from fried rice to noodles. Motorists are served with tea or soft drinks. Vesak thus sees multi-faceted activity all of which revolve round piety and goodness.

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