Buddhism and its festivals are centered on the three major events of Buddhism, namely the birth, enlightenment, and death of Gautam Buddha. The Buddhist festivals are calm and quiet affairs. They celebrate the spirit of Buddhism and all the festivals involve listening to discussions on dharma and repeating the five precepts. Giving food to monks and poor are integral part of all Buddhist festivals. The celebrations differ in every country. In India, the celebrations have become modified according to the customs of Buddhism in India. The major Buddhist festivals of India include the Buddhist New Year, the Visakah puja and Magha puja.
The Buddhist New Year celebrations differ widely in the countries following Buddhism. The Theravada countries like Thailand, Burma and Sri Lanka observe New Year from the first full moon day in April. Their celebrations last for three days. The countries following Mahayana Buddhism usually celebrate the new year on the first full moon day in January. Howerver, regional variations occur within these countries too.
Losar is celebrated as the Tibetan new year in the North and North eastern parts of India. The Chaam dances are the highlight of this festival. The Buddhists dress up in bright clothes and offer prayers in the monasteries.
The Hemis Fair is celebrated in the Hemis monastery in Ladakh. It marks the birth of Guru Padmasambhava , the sage who popularized Buddhism in Tibet. The festival is marked by mask dances or chaams performed by the monks to the beats of drums and cymbals.
Ullambana is observed on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month. It is believed that during this time the dead are allowed to come out of hell and met their loved ones on earth. The Buddhists make offerings to their dead loved ones and indulge in charitable activities. Magha puja, also called sangha day, is celebrated to commemorate the first gathering of the Buddhist arhants or saints in the Veruvana monastery in Rajgaha. The gathering was addressed by Lord Buddha , and took place in the Magh month of the Indian calendar.
Asalha day is celebrated to mark the first teaching of Buddha. It is celebrated on the full moon of the eight lunar month called Asalha. The festival also marks the beginning of the three month long rains retreat when monks confine themselves in the monasteries and meditate. The end of the rains retreat is celebrated as the Pavarana day on the full oon of the 11th lunar month. ( October / November )
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