Posted on May 17th, 2019

Dr.Daya Hewapathirane

Vesak has fivefold significance for the people of Sri Lanka.  It marks

(1)        the birth,

(2)        the attainment of enlightenment, and

(3)        the parinibbana or the final passing away of the Buddha,

(4)        it signifies the beginning of the Buddhist New Year and

(5)        the arrival in Sri Lanka, of Prince Vijaya, the founder of the Sinhala race which is unique to our country.

Traditionally, two major types of activities take place in Sri Lanka during Vesak – spiritual and cultural. The former largely confined to Buddhist temples in the form of prayers, rituals and meditation practices, and the observation of ‘sil’ or the eightfold Buddhist ethical principles by Buddhist devotees clad in white.

Cultural activities take place in public places and homes of Buddhists. Customarily, during Vesak, Sri Lanka is transformed into a fantastic festive world of light, sight and sound. It is Vesak that takes Buddhist paintings and other works of art to the people in the street. Vesak thorana is the fundamental method by which this is done.  Vesak ‘thoran’ or pandols form a spectacular site during Vesak where Buddhist themes are portrayed colourfully, along with narrative descriptions of what is presented in the thoran.  In actual fact, it is a temporary relocation of what is found inside Buddhist temples, on their walls, ceilings, and other surfaces. It is the depiction of the colourful paintings of the life of the Buddha, Jataka tales and episodes from the history of our nation. Evoking serene joy in people and getting them to reflect on the virtues of the Buddha appear to be the primary motives of Buddhist cultural activities during Vesak. 

It is Vesak that provides opportunities for Buddhist artists to express their creativity, their spiritual emotions, the inspiration they have drawn from the Holy Triple Gems  – Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. In fact, it is their festival of arts, bringing together artists, poets, lyricists, musicians, singers, dancers, playwrights, actors, actresses, craftsmen, electricians, photographers, film-makers and those actively involved in or skilled in computer graphics and animation popularly used in some Buddhist cultural activities of contemporary times.  

It is most opportune for all citizens of Sri Lanka, especially all Buddhists to be fully aware of the deceitful threats and challenges of various sorts brought about by extremist Muslims living among us to undermine the Buddha Dhamma and Buddhist culture which form the foundation of our nation.  As concerned citizens of this great country, it is the duty of all to confront these threats and challenges and help the preservation and promotion of the wholesome spiritual basis of this nation.

Dr.Daya Hewapathirane

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