Buddha Purnima

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Tanjore Painting made by Late Mrs Chandan Swaroop
Tanjore Painting made by Late Mrs. Chandan Swaroop

Talking about Buddha Purnima with my students I realized that we mostly associate the date with Buddha’s Birth. As there is still no agreement on his actual date of birth  Gautam Buddha is believed to be born approximately between 563-483 BC, almost twenty-five centuries ago. Buddha Purnima is celebrated on the day of a full moon in the month of Vaisakha and this year 2015 it falls on the 4th of May. So on this day, we not only celebrate Buddha’s birth, but also his enlightenment, and death which means his Mahaparinirvana. We are all familiar with his story of being born as a prince and then living the life of an ascetic, his teachings, and the path to enlightenment, as these were part of our history lesson in school. In India, Buddha Purnima is an official holiday, and celebrations are held in all the pilgrim centers across the country. Besides  Lumbini (his place of birth) and Sarnath ( his first sermon),  Buddha Purnima is celebrated with religious fervor at Gaya ( where he attained enlightenment) and Kushinagar  ( where he died at age 80) and other parts of India and the world which have become important Buddhist centers.

Buddha was born in India/Nepal, around 400 BC, achieved enlightenment, and taught here. His followers are called Buddhist and there are a number of very important sites related to his life’s journey in India. Buddhism then spread to other countries and as we all know, to a large extent because of Emperor Ashoka’s efforts around 268 BC to 232 BC. Then it almost died out in its birth country. Surprisingly Buddhism is making its presence felt in the cities for the last 15 years. I find more and more of my friends adopting Buddhist teachings and having regular chanting sessions while also following their own religious beliefs and practices.

The story of Buddha’s birth is very fascinating and narrated in various sites in stone. Buddha was born as Prince Siddharth to King Suddhodana and Queen Maya of Kapilavastu. One day Queen Maya was resting in her chambers and fell asleep. She had a dream that she was carried by four angels high into White Mountain peaks. The angels clothed her in flowers and she sees a white bull elephant with six trunks coming towards her. He is holding a white lotus in his trunk. The elephant walks three times around her and strikes her on the right side before disappearing into her.

On waking up the Queen narrated her dream to the King. The King summons astrologers and learned men to discuss and interpret the dream. They tell the King that Queen Maya will deliver a son who will become a Great King and conquer the world. This will only happen if he does not leave the household. In case he leaves the household he will become a great saint.

For the birth of her child, the Queen decides to go to her parent’s house in Devadaha. On the way, her entourage passes through the Lumbini Gardens which are full of flowers. Queen Maya decides to rest there and sits below a Sal tree. Buddha is born under the tree. The child is named Siddharth which means ‘he who achieves his aim’. The mother and son are showered with perfumed blossoms, and two streams of sparkling water are poured from the sky to bathe them.

It is said that after his birth Siddharth stood, took seven steps, and proclaimed “I alone am the World-Honored One!” Siddharth was born ten months after Maya’s dream. Queen Maya and son Siddharth returned to Kapilavasthu where the Queen died seven days later, and the infant prince was nursed and raised by the Queen’s sister Pajapati Gautami, also married to King Suddhodana. The baby Buddha’s seven steps are symbolic of seven directions – north, south, east, west, up, down, and here.

Buddha Purnima celebrations remind us of Lord Buddha’s achievements and teachings. Born a Prince by birth, he left the palace renouncing the material world at age 29. He attained enlightenment at Bodh Gaya and attained Nirvana after 49 days of meditation thereby becoming a Buddha which means ‘The Enlightened One’ or ‘The Awakened One’.

Happy Buddha Purnima!

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