List of Famous Buddhist Festivals in India
India has been a source of several major world religions that originated from the land. One such prominent path of faith is Buddhism that was born in India about 2500 years ago between the 6th and 4th centuries BC. It is the world’s forth most followed religion with over 500 million followers. It is revered worldwide for its central theme that focuses on personal spiritual development.
As directed by Lord Buddha, followers of the religion strive to find the deeper meaning of the nature of life and do not just worship deities.
The religion is based on the teachings of the prince turned hermit Gautama Buddha. Buddha was born as a wealthy prince under the name Siddhartha Gautama in a village in Lumbini, Nepal. On one fine day he left his castle to see the world around them and encountered for the first time in life a sick man, an elderly man and a corpse that led to the complete transformation of Prince Siddhartha to the hermit Buddha. He left his life of luxury and privileged and his newly wed wife to become a monk. He lived a life of poverty and asceticism. However, even this way of life did not give him the answers he was seeking for. He then later chose to live life in the “middle path” – which is a life without luxury but also without poverty.
Buddhism teaches as that karma and rebirth are intertwined. Buddhists festivals celebrate “the three jewels” that the religious ideology is based on – the Buddha, the Dharma (his teachings) and the Sangha (the spiritual community).
Here are the top 10 Buddhist festivals celebrated in India:
1. Buddha Purnima
The birth of Gautama Buddha is believed to be the ninth avatar i.e. reincarnation of the Hindu deity Lord Vishnu. Buddha Purnima is celebrated on a fool moon day commemorating the three most important events that occurred in his life on the same day. As per legends Buddha was a born a fool moon day in the month of Vaisak, which is April / May (Know Weather Condition in April in India) as per the Gregorian calendar system. In his lifetime he also attained niravana, i.e. enlightenment on the very same day and subsequently passed away from his earthly vessel on the same day. The Buddha Purnima (or Buddha Jayanti) is celebrated as this day and is the most significant festival celebrated by Buddhists all around the world. The day is also called as Vesak or Vesakha.
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Almost similar to the beliefs behind Halloween the popular American festival, this popular Buddhist festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar. It is also called as the Ghost festival as the Buddhists believe that the “gates of Hell” open on this day and the souls of the dead come to visit their loved ones. Food is offered to the spirits of the dead and to other hungry souls in order to bring in good luck and fortune for the year.
The word Ullambana is a transliteration of the Sanskrit with similar meaning of “deliverance from suffering”. It refers to the salvation redeemed by the souls that are tormented in Hell and is related to the concept of filial piety. Buddhists all around the world offer food and prayers to both their departed forefathers as well as to their living parents and elders.
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It is one of the largest festivals for Tibetan Buddhists and is also celebrated in India with much grandeur. People adorn themselves in new clothes and visit their relatives to make merry. They offer prayers to temples and seek blessings for good health and harmony. One of the most prominent parts of this festival is the enchanting Cham Dance performed by the monks at the various Buddhist monastries. The dance symbolises the victory of good over evil. Losar festival marks the beginning of a new year for Tibetans.
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4. Magha Puja Day
The full moon day (Purnima) of the third lunar month i.e. March (weather in march) is celebrated as the Magha Puja day. This day commemorates the important event in the life of Buddha, which is the fourfold assembly. It is the historic day when 1250 Buddhists spontaneously came together to pray and pay their respects to Lord Buddha.
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5. Asalha Puja Day
This festival is celebrated on the full moon day of the 8th lunar month (in July). It commemorates the day when Buddha offered his first teaching. It is also refered to as the Dharma Day. It is the day when Buddha gave is first teaching on the five ascetics at the deer park near the holy city of Benares in India – Sarnath. The Dharma Day is usually celebrated with readings from the Buddhist scriptures and gives the chance to reflect on them.
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These are four holy days celebrated each month. They are celebrated during the new moons, full moons, and quarter moons. These are fasting days for the Buddhists, they usually refrain from eating anything on these days.
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7. Rumtek Chaam
The Rumtek Monastery which also known as the Dhamrachakra Centre is a prominent Buddhist monastery located in Sikkim. It is presently a point of secratrian tension owing to the Karmapa controversy which is a part of the Karmapa Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. This day is celebrated by Buddhists in Sikkim who offer prayer and pay respects to the Guru Rimpoche or Guru Padmasambhava, he is believed to be the monk who presented Buddhism in Sikkim through the Himalayas in the 8th Century. The Tse tu Chaam move depicts the eight appearances of Guru Padmasambhava.
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8. Hemis Festival
The Hemis Monastery is located in Hemis, Ladakh, India. The monastery belongs to the Drukpa Lineage. It is celebrated annually on the 10th day of the Tse-Chu, Lunar month of the Tibetan Calendar and also celebrates the birth of Guru Padmasambhava. The festival is celebrated with beautiful decorations all over the town and on the Hemis monastery; the natives also dress in traditional attires that are vibrant and colorful. Lamas dance around the flagpole of the courtyard at the Hemis monastery to the beats of drums, cymbals and long horns. The infamous masked dance called Chaam dance is also performed during the celebrations.
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9. Pavarana Day
This festival is celebrated on the Aashvin full moon of the lunar month, which marks the end of the three lunar moons of Vassa which is also called as Buddhist lent. On this day of the festival each monk must come to the community i.e. Sangha and atone for a sin or offence they may have committed during the rainy months of Vassa. It is now a tradition that marks the end of rains.
10. Lumbini Festival
The Lumbini festival is an annual celebration that takes place in the state of Andhra Pradesh to celebrate the heritage of Buddhism in the state. It is celebrated at Nagarjunasagar in Hyderabad. It recollects the past of the state looking back 2000 years when the state enjoyed a thriving Buddhist community and culture with deep spirituality. It is celebrated to observe the significance the religion had on the state and is organized by the Department of Tourism of the Government of Andhra Pradesh.