Buddha’s Birthday

On the eighth day of the fourth month of the lunar calendar (May 12th in 2019), Buddhists in China celebrate Buddha’s birthday, Fódàn (佛誕). It is a public holiday in Hong Kong and Macau. The festival is celebrated across the Buddhist world on different days.

Maya miraculously giving birth to Siddhārtha Gautama (palm leaf manuscript from the Pala Period (8-12th century)

According to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha, Siddhārtha Gautama, was conceived after his mother Maya had a dream about an elephant entering her right side. Maya was the wife of the Shakya King, and in line with tradition, was on her way home to her father’s kingdom when she gave birth. Gautama was born in what is now Nepal. His mother died shortly after his birth. Various wise men predicted that the baby would grow up to be either a great ruler or a great holy man.

Henan’s Shaolin Temple decorated for Buddha’s Birthday celebrations

To celebrate the day, Buddhist temples are decorated in the colours of Buddhism and worshippers go there to light incense, recite sutras and make offerings to the monks. Lanterns are lit to symbolise the Buddha’s enlightenment. A Buddha statue is bathed in scented water (another name for the festival is Yùfójié, 浴佛节, Bathing the Buddha Day)  to symbolise the moment of the Buddha’s birth, when, according to legend, dragons spat out water to clean the newborn. The statue is of the infant Buddha, whose right forefinger is pointed upwards towards the heavens and left forefinger downwards towards the earth in reference to his birth.

Bathing the Buddha

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