Vesak Day in Singapore is a holy day celebrated by Buddhists. It represents the birth, the Nirvana (enlightenment) and the Parinirvana (death) of Gautama Buddha and is the most significant day of the Buddhist calendar. Vesak Day usually falls in May, on the 15th day of the fourth month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar.
On Vesak Day, temples are decorated with flags and flowers. Devoted Buddhists and many observers of the faith congregate at their temple before dawn, saffron-clad monks chant the sutras, the Buddhist flag is raised and the people sing hymns to celebrate the Buddha, the Dharma (his teachings) and the Sangha (his disciples).
Worshippers bring offerings of flowers, candles and incense to lay at the feet of the statues. These offerings demonstrate that the believers accept that life, like the offerings, is subject to decay and destruction.
Buddhists believe that performing good deeds on Vesak Day will multiply merit and it is often a day when Buddhist youth organise mass blood donations at hospitals and other Buddhists perform acts of generosity that can include releasing of caged birds and animals, taking goods to the poor and needy, and making gifts to charity. These acts of generosity are also known as Dana.
The celebration concludes with a candlelit procession through the streets. Mahayana Buddhist temples in Singapore, like the Phor Kark, practise the “three-step, one-bow” ritual on Vesak Day. Devotees take steps on both knees, bowing at every third step as they pray for world peace, personal blessings and repentance. The exhausting two-hour procession actually begins 24 hours before, when many reserve a place in the procession.
The main theme of Vesak Day is to practice love, peace and harmony as taught by the Buddha.