Buddha Purnima honours the birth, enlightenment, and death of Siddhartha Gautama, or Lord Buddha. It is one of the largest Buddhist holidays in India.
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Although less than one percent of the Indian population identifies as Buddhist, Buddha Purnima is a vibrant holiday that attracts people from across the globe. The date of this holiday is not fixed to the Gregorian calendar like many Western holidays; it is observed on the full moon of the month of Vaishakha on the Hindu calendar. Buddhia Purnima is a holiday that is oriented around humility and respect.
Buddha Purnima was celebrated for hundreds of years after the death of Siddhartha Gautama. Despite this, the festival did not become an official Buddhist holiday until the middle of the 20th century. In 1950, the World Fellowship of Buddhists gathered in Sri Lanka to discuss the future of Buddhism. At this gathering, they decided to make Buddha Purnima an official holiday that would honour the birth, life, and death of Lord Buddha.
Many Indian Buddhists celebrate Buddha Purnima through various acts:
Ceremonies Before Dawn: One of the most common ways to celebrate Buddha Purnima is to gather at a place of worship before the sun rises. This ceremony is observed with various prayers and dances. In some areas, marches and physical exercises are performed. This is a way of showing gratitude for health and the simple things in life. Some people also participate in hymns.
Hoisting of the Buddhist Flag: After the sun rises on Buddha Purnima, the Buddhist flag is hoisted at temples and other sites of religious importance. The modern Buddhist flag originated in Sri Lanka. Its primary colors are blue, red, white, orange, and yellow. Blue represents compassion and respect for all living things. Red is a symbol of the blessings of practice. White represents the purity of Dharma. Orange is a representation of wisdom. Finally, yellow stands of the Middle Path, or the commitment to avoid extremes.
Donations: Many Buddhist temples host festivals that provide free activities for people of all ages. Since these events are free, participants are expected to donate money or food to the monks.
Freeing of Caged Animals: To show compassion, many people free caged birds and other animals on Buddha Purnima. This practice also brings attention to the moral issue of the imprisonment of humans throughout the world.