Wesak, Buddha's Birthday

Buddhism is a religion followed by millions of people in Asia and elsewhere. the founder of Buddhism was an Indian prince named Siddhartha Gautama who lived about 2,500 years ago. At the age of 29, Siddhartha left his luxurious palace to wander the countryside in search or religious enlightenment. After six years he came to Bihar, where he suddenly realised the purpose of human existence. After this he was known as Buddha, which means "the enlightened one". Buddha spent the rest of his life teaching otehr people about his beliefs and the ways in which he thought people should lead their lives. He passed away at the age of about 80.

The most important festival in the Buddhist religion is Wesak, which occurs on the day of a full moon in the spring. Wesak is a commemoration of the day on which Buddha was born, the day he achieved enlightenment and the day on which he died. In most Asian countries, Wesak is a public holiday so that worshippers can attend the temple rituals or take part in the many ceremonies which are held to mark this important day. In some countries, Wesak is known as Visakha or Buddha Purnima.

Celebrating Wesak
The holy day of Wesak is celebrated in various ways in different countries, but everywhere it is a time of celebration and of reflection. The day begins at dawn when gongs and drums are sounded in the temples. On this day Buddhists dress in pure white and walk to the temple where they sit quietly to think about the Eightfold Path of Buddha, which includes the instruction to abstain from killing and to abstain from stealing, as well as to avoid evil thoughts. Monks and Priests may spend the entire day in a temple contemplating these ideas. Outside the temple there are parades, fairs and dances. Wealthy people may set up a stall from which they give food and drink free to anyone who passes by, or they may hand out scrolls and books on which are wrotten the teachings of Buddha. After sunset, special lanterns are lit outside houses and temples. the holy books are read quiety, or monks may retell the stories about Buddha's life and his message to humanity.

Buddha Images
In the years after Buddha passed away, his folllowers began creating images of Buddha at his work. Many statues of Buddha show him seated, teaching his views to his followers. The positions of the statue's hands symbolise different aspects of Buddha's message. Some statues show Buddha lying down with his eyes partially open. This is a depiction of buddha as he passed away to enter Nirvana, the state of perfect existence which all Buddhists hope to attain. This statue with two heads shows Buddha's compassion. Two Chinese Buddhists were too poor to afford a statue each, so they bought one to share. Buddha miraculously divided the statue so that each amn had an image of Buddha.