Celebrated in various countries, from India to Thailand, Myanmar, South Korea, and Malaysia, Wesak Day, as Buddha's birthday is known, is a festival that celebrates the birth, death and enlightenment of Gautama Buddha.
Devotees of Gautam Buddha celebrate Wesak worldwide to commemorate his birthday. Also known as Vesak, Buddha Purnima, Buddha Day and Buddha Jayanti, the date of Wesak Day changes year after year depending on which calendar is followed. In China and Hong Kong, Wesak was celebrated on May 3 this year following the Chinese lunar calendar, while in Thailand and Malaysia it is being celebrated on May 10.
It is believed that Buddha was born in Lumbini, Nepal, in 567 BC. After his birth, an astrologer predicted that he would grow up to denounce all his wealth and luxuries to become a holy man. At the age of 29, he denounced his royal life and decided to follow the path of spirituality. Though the day is celebrated to mark his birth, it is also known as the day he attained nirvana or salvation under the Mahabodhi tree at Bodh Gaya, now in the Mahabodhi Temple Complex in India.
Devotees discuss and preach the life and teachings of Lord Buddha, decorate his statues with flowers, chant from the scriptures, eat simple vegetarian food, and donate clothes, money, and food to the needy.
Countries celebrating Wesak Day have their own traditions that symbolise numerous aspects of Buddha's life and teachings.
In Malaysia, hundreds of devotees gathered at the temples of Ipoh, on Wednesday, to seek Buddha's blessings. They practise the ritual of "Sunning Buddha" and gather at Ipoh's Enlightened Heart Tibetan Buddhist temple where monks place a sacred Tibetan Buddhist painting called a "Thangka" in the sun to absorb its powers. It is believed that the energy promotes peace, health, and harmony for the rest of the year.
Lighting oil lamps on Wesak Day is an important ritual. Jonas Wong Wai Leong, 30, came with his new bride to pray for a baby and for wealth. As an offering, he carried a Buddha statue and placed it on the altar of Ipoh's "Enlightened Tibetan Buddhist" temple. Like many other devotees, he also lit candles as a sign of respect. "I am so happy today. The temple gave us rice and sugar. I am going to consume them for strength and good health," he added.
In Malaysia, Buddhism is the religion with the second most adherents after Islam. Out of a population of 30 million, approximately 5.4 million Malaysians are Buddhists, most of whom are ethnic Chinese.