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Graphic celebrating the Buddhist religious holiday Vesak

Happy Vesak Day: An insight into the history of Buddhism and the Vesak celebration

Thursday 23 May marks this year’s Vesak celebration for those in the Buddhist community. Vesak is a time for bringing happiness to others and paying homage to the religious figure Buddha. 

What is Vesak?

Vesak has many names, and is most commonly referred to as Wesak, Buddha Jayanti, Buddha Purnima, Buddha Day and even Buddha’s birthday. The Vesak name comes from the Pali term vesākha or Sanskrit vaiśākha – the lunar month of Vaisakha, which is thought of as Buddha’s birth month. 

The festival of Vesak brings together the birth, enlightenment and passing of Gautama Buddha in a day full of light, love, and kindness. Observed by Buddhists and some Hindus in South and South East Asia, as well as Tibet and Mongolia, it’s one of the most important dates for those who practice Buddhism. 

The history of Vesak 

Dating back more than 2,600 years to the birth of Buddha, Vesak is part of the Asian lunisolar calendars and is celebrated during Vaisakha – a month renowned to both Buddhist and Hindu cultures.

The day signifies the day of the full moon in May, which means Vesak can fall on different dates each year and also depends on where you are in the world. Sometimes May will have two full moons and different countries will choose to celebrate on either the first sighting or the second. 

Siddhartha Gautama (more commonly known as the Buddha) is believed to have once been a citizen of (modern day) Nepal, born into a wealthy family. After deciding to give up his rich lifestyle, Buddha was left feeling un-fulfilled and vowed to do more. This is where Buddhism was created, in the idea of ‘middle way’ – existing between two extremes: a life without indulgence but also without deprivation. 

Siddhartha Gautama searched for a long time in the hopes of finding enlightenment and eventually found it while meditating under a Bodhi tree. He dedicated his life to teaching others about this spiritual awakening and after his death (approx. 483BC) those teachings became the foundations for Buddhism. 

How to celebrate Vesak

There are many ways Buddhists choose to commemorate Vesak day.

Significantly devout Buddhists and followers will assemble in their various temples before dawn. Here they’ll carry out the ceremonial and honourable hoisting of the Buddhist flag and sing hymns in praise of the holy triple gem: The Buddha, The Dharma (his teachings), and The Sangha (his disciples). 

Some will also bring offerings of flowers, candles, and joss-sticks to lay at the feet of Buddha. These gifts are symbolic offerings, there to remind followers that just as the beautiful flowers will wither away after time, the candles and joss-sticks will also burn out, symbolising that life is subject to decay and destruction.

Likewise, a small statue of the teacher might be placed in the front of the alter, sitting in a basin of water that is decorated with flowers.  You can then poor water over said statue as a gesture of cleaning bad karma and re-enactment of the events after Buddha’s birth, when he was showered with sacred waters by the gods and spirits.


Vesak is a scared time for Buddhists and for those who celebrate, it represents a significant journey that offers lots of guidance for life within the community.

We wish everyone celebrating a happy and successful Vesak that’s filled with love, light and good karma. 

BuddhaBuddhismBuddhist cultureCelebrationcultural celebrationCulturehappy Vesak 2024how to celebrate Vesakinternationalinternational studentinternational student experiencestudent lifeUniversity of BrightonVesak day

Clare Cornwell • May 22, 2024

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