Vesak: Celebrating Buddha’s Birthday in Vietnam

Vesak is a Buddhist celebration that’s celebrated all over the world, including in Vietnam, where more than 50% of the population are Buddhists. Taking place during the month of May, Vesak is the birthday of Buddha and is considered one of the most significant holidays in Vietnam.  Vesak is locally known as Phật Đản. In some countries, it’s also called Buddha Day. The entire Vesak celebration consists of three festivals that include the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha.

Significance of the Lotus Flower

During the Vesak celebration, temples are mostly decorated with lanterns, lotus flowers, and other decors. But the most common motif is pink, which is the color of the lotus flower. The flower plays a significant role in Buddhism and has many different meanings. Generally, it signifies fortune, since the flower rises through the mud as it blooms. It is also seen as enlightenment and purification of the spirit, as well as faithfulness to devotion. In Buddhism, the pink color is given great importance and each shade represents different things.

In Vietnam, you’ll find the lotus flower decorated in various homes and buildings. In fact, some of the country’s most popular buildings have lotus decorations in it. One example is the Bitexco Financial Tower, a skyscraper in Vietnam that is considered the country’s tallest building.  This tower is actually inspired by the Lotus flower.

Vesak Celebrations

Vesak is held solemnly in Vietnam and the main celebration usually falls on full moon day. Buddhists are prohibited from slaughtering during this time and has to follow a vegetarian diet. They are also encouraged to carry out good deeds. Processions and parades are being held in various cities all over the country as well.

The holiday is enthusiastically celebrated in the Buddhist pagodas, temples, and some other places of worship all over the country. Monks will also lead calls to prayer and would give speeches. Followers are expected to pray and reflect upon their lives during the celebration. Incense will be lighted as they worship Buddha. Offerings can also be found at the foot of the shrines, which consist of fruits, flowers, and other gifts.

Candle Lighting, Prayers, and Charity

During Vesak, candles are lighted and placed on a lamp that resembles that of lotus flowers. They are then sent out into lakes and rivers to float. Buddhists believe that through Buddha’s spirit, they will be able to bring happiness to everyone, including the non-followers.

In various cities all over the country, such as in Hoi An, Hue, and Ho Chi Minh, monks would lead the call to prayers and parades. Colorful Buddhist flags can be seen lining the streets, rivers, and alleyways. Local homes and pathways will also be adorned with lanterns. Gifts will also be given to the poor and the needy. Moreover, local Buddhist Sanghas will carry out charity works and will raise funds for the poor, which may include building houses for the homeless.

Although Buddhism is not the only religion that is being practiced in the country, relevant Buddhist festivals such as Vesak are still begin held here regularly. This is what makes Vietnam a truly diverse and interesting country to visit.

Traveling to Vietnam During Vesak Celebration

If your travel date to Vietnam falls during the Vesak celebration, then you are lucky enough to witness one of the country’s most significant holidays. But you have to understand that the streets will be very crowded due to the parade and processions that will be happening. Thus, traffic can be worse. While Vesak is not as grand as Tet, you can still expect that a large number of locals will be traveling home during this holiday.

Therefore, if you plan on traveling by bus, train, or plane, you need to book your trip as early as possible. Also, some of the temples, museums, and pagodas might be closed during the holiday so you have to consider that when planning your itinerary. It may be a good idea to stay in one city while the Vesak celebration is taking place. This is also a great way to observe the celebration and soak up the festive vibe. As visitors to the country, you are expected to pay respects so as not to disappoint the locals who are meditating and praying during this event.

Traveling during holidays in Vietnam like Vesak does come with a few challenges. Buses and trains are often sold out in advance so you cannot expect to get a seat by simply showing up at the train station. Some hotels might be sold out as well because a good number of locals will be traveling during this holiday. Also, some of the country’s attractions, most especially the Buddhist temples and pagodas may be closed. Nevertheless, don’t let this stop you from enjoying the country during Vesak. In fact, this is a great opportunity to witness and learn more about the country’s local culture, religion, and tradition.

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