Figure 1: Political map of Nepal Source: 1998 National Geographic
Buddha Jayanti can seem like just another religious holiday when looked at on the surface by outsiders, but there is much more to this celebration. Not only does it commemorate a great religious leader and teacher, but it brings together people from all over to observe and honor the life of Buddha and his spiritual journey. Buddha Jayanti reminds people of their religious background and the significance of their religion in their lives. The celebration has come to signify not only the birth, life, and death of Buddha, but of Buddhists commitment to their faith.
2: Swayambhunath temple to Buddha, where millions flock
to worship during Buddha Jayanti. Source Tibettravels.com
3: A statue of Buddha in Nepal, one where people come
to pray to Buddha. Source: Nepal-Traveller.com
Buddha Jayanti is a celebration in Nepal dedicated to the birth, Enlightenment, and passing into Nirvana of Buddha. It is a religious celebration for Buddhism and Hinduism. Buddha had a very culturally important life which influenced the Buddhist and Hindu religion. Buddhism and Buddha's ideas spread throughout Asia and still are practiced today. Buddha Jayanti is a blessed day for three reasons, Buddha's birth, reaching Enlightenment, and passing into Nirvana. The people of Nepal celebrate this day by worshipping Buddha at major shrines, like Swayambhunath, where millions gather to pray, burn butterlamps, and listen to Buddha's teachings. People parade through the streets and display colorful flags while praising Buddha's teachings (cybernepal). It is a joyous time for the Nepalese and their religion. Buddha Jayanti is a celebration that unifies the Nepalese despite the existing social hierarchy, and it serves as a reminder of their commitment to their faith and of the life and teachings of Lord Buddha.
Nepal is a small country, close to the size of Kansas that sits between India and the Tibet region of China . Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world belongs to Nepal , which is part of the Himalayan Mountains . The southern part of Nepal is called the Terai which is a low region of cultivable land, swamps, and forests that provide valuable timber (Infoplease). The northern part of the country is dominated by the Himalayan Mountains . The central part of Nepal is where the majority of the population resides. It's called the Katmandu valley where there are still very tall peaks. A shrine of Buddha called, Swayambhunath, resides in the Katmandu valley as well, figure 2. The climate of Nepal can be made into four seasons. Spring is dry and mild which changes into hot, then summer when there is the monsoon, then fall which is ideal weather, then winter which is cool and dry weather.The Buddhist culture had started to develop by the 4 th century AD in the Katmandu valley where the Newars settled. The Gurkhas invaded and took over the lands of Nepal . In 1858 Queen Victoria signed the Government of India Act which basically meant that Britain controlled the Indian government. The main reason for this move was Britain 's hold in the British East India Company which merged the company and the government; friendly relations were not established until 1923 when Britain recognized the absolute independence of Nepal (Buultjens, Ralph p. 97). The kingdom of Nepal was unified in 1768 by King Prithvi Narayan Shah (Infoplease). The struggle for power among the Nepalese nobility culminated in 1846 with the rise to political dominance of the Rana family (Infoplease). King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram ruled until King Mahendra took over in 1950. Nepal is the only Hindu monarchy and was controlled by a hereditary prime ministership until 1951 (Grolier's). The nation's first election was held in 1959, but in 1960, King Mahendra dismissed the cabinet, dissolved parliament, and banned political parties. A 1962 constitution created a nonparty council system of government. After a 1980 referendum approved a modified version of the council system and direct parliamentary elections were held in 1981. Most recently, King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Deva became the ruler of Nepal and dissolved parliament in 1990. The opposition formed an interim government in April 1990, and a new constitution creating a constitutional monarchy and a bicameral legislature became effective on Nov. 9, 1990 (Grolier's).
Buddha Jayanti means the day of Buddha's birth. Buddha, originally named Siddhartha, was born about 566 B.C to his mother Queen Maya. A sage told the King his son would be either a great ruler or leave the throne and become a great spiritual teacher. The first time Buddha left the castle walls he saw poverty and sickness and decided to give up his princely position and to find the ultimate cause of suffering and the way to end it. On the dawn of a full moon night in the north Indian town of Bodh Gaya , Siddhartha had the direct realization of the way things truly exist. Prince Siddhartha became the Buddha, the Enlightened One. He spent the rest of his life teaching and guiding thousands of followers, and passed away at 80, leaving the world simple instructions for the path to freedom from suffering and the development of compassion for all sentient beings (Nepalesecommunity.co.uk). The commemoration and celebration of his life and teachings started after his death around 647 B.C. and have continued for about 2000 years (Nepalesecommunity.co.uk).
Buddha Jayanti falls on the full moon in April or May. It celebrates the birth, the Enlightenment, and the passing into Nirvana of Buddha which all took place on a full moon in May. Both Hindus and Buddhists observe this holiday. The celebration centers around major shrines, one being Swayambhunath (figure 2) and Boudhanath. Prayer flags are hung all around the temples and butterlamps are burned all night there (figure 4). The next day, monks perform long rituals and walk in procession with horns, cymbals and colorful head-dresses. Elephants are also part of processions in nearby towns, with images of Buddha mounted on them. People line the street; women wear Tibetan dresses, wearing fabulous coral and turquoise necklaces, rows of big and little monks, and young men in bright Hong Kong fashions. Large symbolic lotus petals are painted on the stupa of the temples with yellow dye made from saffron (Nepalesecommunity.co.uk). On this day the Buddhists bathe and wear only white clothes. They gather for worship and give alms to monks. Many spend their entire day at the listening to discourses on the life and teachings of the Buddha or invite monks to their homes. They also reaffirm their faith in the five principles called Panchsheel—not to take life, not to steal, not to lie, not to imbibe liquor or other intoxicants, and not to commit adultery. Buddhists refrain from eating meat and eat kheer or rice cooked in milk and sugar, which they share with the poor. They set up stalls in public places to offer others clean drinking water and also show kindness to animals. The statue of the Buddha receives special attention everywhere, with people offering it incense, flowers, candles, and fruits. The Bodhi Vriksha or the pipaltree the under which the Buddha's attained enlightenment also receives a fair share of garlands and colored flags. People also sprinkle milk and scented waters on its roots and light lamps around it (Indianvisit).
It's a time of joy and devotion, and a time of thanks to Buddha who left his palace to bring to the world the teachings of great compassion.
Figure 4:This image shows the lighting of candles by monks and the people of Nepal aropund the temple Swayambhunath on the day of Buddha Jayanti. Source: mahabodhi.com
All over the world, Buddhism is growing in popularity. More people are starting to practice the teaching of Buddha and living their lives accordingly. The appeal is that Buddhism teaches how to overcome stress and anxiety that plagues our fast paced global society. People look to Buddhism for guidance to learn to meditate and to gain a deeper spiritual experience. Meditation is growing in popularity similar to the increase in popularity of yoga techniques (About Buddhism). There has been an increase of Buddhist followers in the countries that have high concentrations of Buddhists, making Buddha Jayanti a very popular celebration; the most popular in Nepal . Buddhist practices have crossed the seas and have come to modernized countries like the United States . Here there is a deep interest in learning the meditation practices to overcome the stresses and anxiety that accompanies modern society. Followers also use Buddhism to deepen their spiritual experiences.
Buddha Jayanti is an important festival that celebrates the teachings and life of Buddha. His teachings have been influential all over the world and are becoming more popular globally. With the growing popularity of Buddha's teachings comes the growing significance of Buddha Jayanti. As the religion spreads its influence there becomes a need for people to know and understand what Buddhism is. Buddha Jayanti is a beautiful celebration with colorful dress and flags displayed to show the world the devotion of the followers of Buddha. People come from all over the world to Nepal to witness and participate in this 2000 year old tradition celebrating the life and teachings of one of the most influential teachers the world has ever seen.
2003 Buddhism Today. Electronic document, http://www.aboutbuddhism.org/Buddhism-today.htm, accessed November 9.
Note: This website contains interesting information on the spread and influence of Buddhism and its practices to other parts of the world. It describes the Western acceptance of Buddhism's practices and the growing popularity of certain practices.
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Note: This is a very thorough website that describes the historical origins of Buddha Jayanti and includes some recent news stories pertaining to Buddha and the celebration.
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