Vesak festival in Indonesia

A traditional Buddhist ritual

Vesak festival in Indonesia

Despite making up less than one percent of the present population, Buddhists in Indonesia have a history stretching back to the sixth century (CE). With the only major religion to surpass this being Hinduism, the traditions of Buddhism and their worship have left a lasting impression on Indonesia that is very much visible to this day.

Vesak (or Waisak in Indonesian) is one of the most important religious festivals in the Buddhist calendar. Commonly thought of as the day of the Buddha’s birth, it also marks his attainment of Nirvana and physical death. Observed at the occurrence of a full moon in May or June it is celebrated as a public holiday in Indonesia.

The festivities are marked in central Java by an evening procession from Mendut temple, via Pawon (another major temple), before finishing at the vast Borobodur, site of the single largest Buddhist complex in the world.

Monks and pilgrims walk the trail between the temples with offerings and candles, converging on Borobodur and marking the zenith of the full moon with prayer and three ceremonial revolutions of the central stupa (the tower or mound that is the focus of meditation or worship in Buddhism). Lanterns are traditionally released into the night sky as the ritual draws to a close.

Away from the centres of Buddhism in Indonesia, adherents are expected to make charitable offerings of food to monks, and generally observe, and reflect on, the teachings of the Buddha more closely. This can include a strict vegetarian diet and contributing to the cleaning and decoration of local temples.

Borobudur is the most visited tourist attraction in Indonesia, and the chance to observe the Vesak festival at this stunning UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the most exciting opportunities that Indonesia’s wealth of religions has to offer.

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