Apart from Sri Lanka, many Asian countries such as India, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan celebrate Vesak. Vesak celebrates the Birth, Enlightenment and the Parinibbana (passing) of Lord Buddha. Many religious activities are organized during this period in Sri Lanka such as Seela retreats (observing the eight precepts) , Bodhi Poojas, Dansalas (Freely giving foods, coffee, tea) Bakthi Gee (Vesak devotional songs), thoran (pandols ) and lanterns.
Devotees young and old clad in white trek to the temple early morning to mark this event. In temples Buddhists worship, offer flowers, light lamps and burn incense. These traditional observances, in essence, have their value in satisfying the religious and emotional needs of the people.
Buddhists generally wear a white and go to the temple. White is the symbol of simplicity. It is a neutral colour. The devotees carry baskets of white flowers -‘araliya’, ‘pichcha’ or some other variety to be offered to the Buddha at the image house, the bo tree and the ‘chaitya’. Many of them spend the whole day in the temple and reaffirm their determination to follow the teachings of Buddha. On this poya day the ‘Dana’ (alms giving) plays an important role. This is a sign of sharing joy and peace with people.
It is also time for the magnificent Vesak Thoran (Pandols) in Sri Lanka. Electrically lit Vesak pandols are erected island wide at public places. These are mostly sponsored by donors, religious societies and welfare groups. Each pandol illustrates a story from the 550 ‘Jathaka Katha’ or the 550 Past Life Stories of the Buddha.
Sri Lankans young and old gather to make beautiful Vesak koodu(lanterns) a few days before Vesak Poya and are lit at temples and homes. The lighting signifies an offering to the memory of Lord Buddha who delivered the message of Dhamma. In ancient times, people used their clay oil lamps for illumination. When candles became popular, colourful lanterns were made in different shapes and colors. Today they are made with straws, recycled products and many more.