Wesak Day, or Vesak Day, is a public holiday in
Malaysia, marking the most important Buddhist festival of the year. It
commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha, and is
sometimes called “Buddha’s Birthday”. It is celebrated on the full moon day of
the Vaisakha month of the Buddhist calendar, which in most years is the full
moon day in May. In 2017 it will be celebrated on May 10th.
Taoists also celebrate Wesak Day, and the large
Buddhist and Taoist communities in Penang celebrate in grandiose style.
The day is spent visiting colourfully-decorated temples to pray, meditate,
offer flowers, and light candles and joss sticks and reaffirm the principles of
Buddhism. Devout Buddhists recollect that just as flowers wither and die and
joss sticks and candles burn to ashes, life on earth is also transient. They
also pour perfumed water over statues of the Buddha to remind themselves to
purify their minds from greed and lead good lives. Apart from these rituals,
many temples also organise charitable events such as blood donation drives, the
distribution of free vegetarian meals to the poor, and visits to orphanages.
The highlight of the festival is the seven kilometre
long float procession through the streets of George Town, which has been held
every year since 1949. It starts at 6pm from the Malaysian Buddhist Association
at 182, Burmah Road, and makes its way along Jalan Pangkor, Jalan Kelawai,
Lorong Burmah, Peel Avenue, Jalan Macalister, Jalan Anson and Lorong Madras before
returning back to Burmah Road. The procession usually includes around twenty
colourful and illuminated floats that are accompanied by children singing
traditional songs and monks chanting prayers and sprinkling holy water on the
up to 15,000 people lining the streets to watch.
By Louise Goss-Custard