Vesak Day

Category: Social Practices, Rituals and Festive Events

Vesak Day (Wesak Day), also referred to as “Buddha’s Birthday”, is an annual religious festival celebrated by the two major Buddhist denominations in Singapore: Theravada and Mahayana Buddhists. The festival typically lasts for a full day and is seen as one of the most significant occasions in Buddhism as it marks the birth, enlightenment and passing of Gautama Buddha.

Kong Meng San on Vesak Day. Courtesy of Yeo Kirk Siang.Kong Meng San on Vesak Day. Courtesy of Yeo Kirk Siang.

The official celebration of Vesak Day in Singapore can be tracked back to the 1920s, where the term “Vesak” was first publicly used in the press coverage in 1925 by The Straits Times. It was officially gazetted as a public holiday in 1955 under David Marshall’s Labour Front government, following continuous public petitions led by the Singapore Buddhist Association.

Kong Meng San on Vesak Day. Courtesy of Yeo Kirk Siang.Kong Meng San on Vesak Day. Courtesy of Yeo Kirk Siang.

Vesak Day usually occurs on the first full-moon day of the Vaisakha month (April/May in the Gregorian calendar). In Singapore, Vesak Day is typically celebrated in the month of May and the exact date of the celebration is based on the advice given by the Singapore Buddhist Federation.

A distinct feature of Vesak Day in Singapore is the adoption of an inter-denominational approach to the celebration despite the presence of a variety of Buddhism denominations. As such, distinctive celebratory practises noted in specific temples in Singapore often do not have specified denominational exclusivity.

The main distinction between the Theravada and Mahayana Buddhists lies in the temple they congregate at during Vesak Day in Singapore. Theravada Buddhists congregate at temples such as Sri Lankaramaya Buddhist Temple and Wat Ananda Metyarama Temple while Mahayana Buddhists congregate in temples such as Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery.

During Vesak Day, Buddhists will offer prayers, make offerings and visit Buddhist temples such as Kong Meng Shan Phor Kark See Monastery, Lian Shan Shuan Lin Temple in Toa Payoh, Buddha Tooth Relic Temple at South Bridge Road, Sri Lankaramaya Buddhist Temple, Burmese Buddhist Temple at 14 Tai Gin Road, and Wat Ananda Metyarama Thai Buddhist temple.

Kong Meng San on Vesak Day. Courtesy of Yeo Kirk Siang.Kong Meng San on Vesak Day. Courtesy of Yeo Kirk Siang.

Another common practice is the bathing of Buddha statues where water will be poured over these statutes to signify the legend of Buddha being consecrated by the waters of nine mythical dragons afterbirth. Other common practices observed during Vesak Day include the gold gliding of Buddha statues, the consumption of vegetarian meals, the lighting of oil lamps, the performance of charitable deeds or volunteering, as well as participation in religious talks by venerable monks. 


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