Buddhist Festivals in India

Mahatma Buddha Shakyamuni, the founder of the Buddhism religion who lived from 563 BCE to 483 BCE was known as the Jyoti Punj of Asia. King Ashoka who converted to Buddhism and started practising Dharma, spread the religion which led to the rise of followers of Buddhism all throughout the world. Since then the followers of Buddhism have celebrated many festivals to mark the presence of Buddha among them.

Some of the famous Buddhist festivals which are celebrated with full enthusiasm in India and outside include Buddh Purnima, Hemis Festival, Asalha Day, Ullambana, Losar Festival and many others that let the devotees engage themselves in numerous activities such as meditation practices and yoga programs.

Popular Buddhist Festivals Celebrated in India

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Buddha Purnima is celebrated to mark the birth ceremony of Lord Gautam Buddha who is believed to be the ninth avatar of the Hindu deity, Lord Vishnu. Buddha Purnima celebrations across India are a significant event for Buddhists and attract pilgrims from all over the world to the holy sites where Buddha attained enlightenment or Nirvana such as Bodhgaya, Sarnath, Kushinagar and other destinations. The festival is celebrated on a full moon day that commemorates the three events that occurred in the life of Lord Buddha. The day is also known as Vesak or Vesakha as according to tales, Lord Buddha was born in the month of Vaisak (April/May). Numerous monasteries and shrines are decorated with lights and followers to honour and offer prayers to Buddha.

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Hemis festival is celebrated every year on the 10th day of Tse-Chu, the lunar month of the Tibetan calendar. The Hemis Festival is widely celebrated for 2 days in the region of Ladakh at Hemis Monastery drawing visitors from all over the world. People believe that it is lucky to witness the monastery's Thangka during the festival since it signifies spiritual health, fortune and power. The Monastery belongs to the community of Drukpa Lineage. The festival also celebrates the birth of Guru Padmasambhava. The town of Ladakh is decorated with vibrant and colourful items and natives dress in traditional attires. The Lamas also perform at the Hemis Monastery on beats of drums, cymbals and long horns and a masked dance called Chaam is also performed.

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Asalha Puja Day commemorates the day when Lord Gautam Buddha offered his first teaching to five ascetics at the deer park near the sacred city of Varanasi, Sarnath and is also known by the name of Dharma Day. The celebration takes place on the full moon day of the 8th Lunar month which usually falls on the month of July where the followers stay close to the spiritual leader, Lord Buddha and read his Dharma teachings. The Lamas chant mantras and decorate the monasteries with diyas and lights. The monks stay inside the monastery to do meditation and participate in community prayers as per their rain retreat. The retreat ends on Pavarana Day.

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Ullambana is a unique festival celebrated in India and also called Ghost Festival in which the Buddhists believe that the 'Gates of Hell' open and spirits come to visit their loved ones. They pray to stay away from evil powers and bad souls. Ullambana is quite similar to the popular American festival Halloween, which is celebrated on the 15th day of the 7th month of the Lunar calendar. The word Ullambana in Sanskrit means 'deliverance from suffering'. The followers and pilgrims of Buddhism from all over the world offer food and prayers to their forefathers as well as their elder living family members. They say that this will bring good luck, fortune and prosperity for the year.

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Losar festival is celebrated by Tibetan and Buddhist monks to welcome the new year and say goodbyes to the previous year. Losar festival is one of the top Buddhist festivals in India which is celebrated with grandeur and full enthusiasm in several parts of India as it falls on the 1st month of the Lunar calendar. Buddhist pilgrims travel from different parts of the world to enjoy India-Nepal tours during this festival. The local people dress gracefully and visit their relatives to cheer, celebrate with full glory and prepare special delicacies like Khapse, Guthuk and many other items. The festival is incomplete without the Cham dance which is performed by the Buddhist monks in the monasteries. The people offer prayers and seek blessings for good health and wholesome harmony.

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Magha Puja is celebrated on the full moon day of the Magha month (March) of the Lunar calendar. The Magha Puja is also known by the name of Sangha Day and is an important festival for Buddhists as it is a historic day when 1250 Buddhist monks and Lamas came together to offer their prayers and pay their respects to Lord Gautam Buddha. Along with this, Lord Buddha delivered the recitation of the Patimokkhaon. Devotees engage in several Dharma activities such as discussion on Dharma, candle processions, the importance of moral discipline, meditation and mental purity. People visit Buddhist monasteries to light the candles, diyas and exchange gifts. The festival's primary goal is to maintain spiritual integrity and do good deeds.

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Rumtek Monastery, a famous monastery of Sikkim is also known as Dharmachakra Centre for Buddhists who celebrate the Rumtek Chaam every year to pay respect to Guru Rimpoche or Guru Padmasambhava. Guru Padmasambhava is believed to be the monk who spread the significance of Buddhism in the Sikkim region in the 8th century. Rumtek Chaam is considered among the popular festivals as it is celebrated with great zeal and enthusiasm 2 days before the Tibetan New Year. The Buddhist monks wear colourful clothes and attractive masks while performing unique dances inside the monastery. The dance moves depict the different appearances of Guru Padmasambhava. It is also meant to represent the victory of right over wrong. In addition, individuals wear new outfits and add beauty to their homes.

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