Lord Vishnu being worshipped as
the Buddha in Angkor Vatt
The festival of Buddha Purnima falls on the full moon
day of the fourth lunar month, in the month of Vaishakha (May). Though it
is celebrated mainly as the birth anniversary of Gautama Buddha, the founder
of Buddhism, it is on this particular day that he attained Bodhi (Enlightenment)
on the banks of the river Niranjana, Bodh Gaya, Bihar, under a pipal tree
(Ficus religiosa), which has since been called the Bodhi Tree.
He also attained Mahaparinirvana, at Kushinagar, Uttar
Pradesh on Vaishakha Purnima. That is why it is called a thrice-sacred day
or ‘triple blessed festival‘. Siddhartha‘s wife,Yashodhara,
his charioteer Channa, his disciple Ananda, his horse Kantaka and the Bodhi
Tree under which he received Enlightenment were all born on the same day.
The birth of Gautama Buddha is steeped
in both history and legends. The Buddha was born in the royal clan of an Aryan
tribe, Sakyas, in East India in the 6th Century B.C. His father King Shuddhodana
was the chief of the clan and ruled the principality of Kapilavastu on the borders
of present-day Nepal. The King was married to Mahamaya, the daughter of the
Raja of the Kolyan clan.
Scriptural accounts of the life of Buddha
mention that his greatness was foretold in a dream of his mother in which she
saw a white elephant holding a lotus enter her womb. Buddha was born in about
563 BC and his mother died seven days later. The child was brought up by his
mother‘s younger sister Mahaprajapati Gautami. He was named Siddhartha
Gautama. At the time of casting his horoscope it was predicted that he would
become either a world monarch or a great religious leader.
Shuddhodana did not wish his son to be
an ascetic. So he had him married to his cousin, Yashodhara, when he was 16
years old. Siddhartha lived a happy life, unaware of suffering, old age, disease
But in his twenty-ninth year, he came
across a man bent with old age, a sick person, a dead body, and finally , an
ascetic and became aware of the sufferings of life. He became dissatisfied with
his luxurious style of life and decided to give it up in his quest for Truth.
Returning home, he heard of the birth of his son, Rahul, and the same night
he left the palace renouncing his kingdom, his son and his wife. It is called
the Buddha‘s Mahabhinishkraman.
Practising Buddhism: Caucasians and Asians
After crossing the Anoma river he sent
his horse and the charioteer back to the palace with his royal robes. Siddhartha
continued his journey alone till he attained Enlightenment six years later.
Since the Buddha‘s Mahaparinirvana, in his eightieth year on Vaishakha
Purnima, Buddhists have been celebrating this thrice-sacred day with great fervour
and devotion. Fa-Hien, the Chinese traveller who visited India in the fifth
century AD, also mentioned about the celebration of this festival in his memoirs.