Vesak fall in the month of May. It usually falls on the full moon poya day of every year. Vesak festival is celebrated to commemorate the birth of prince Siddhartha, Enlightenment of sage Siddhartha and the parinirvana (passing away) of Lord Buddha. Lord Buddha is the preacher of Buddhism; a philosophical religion that has a real depth. It is composed of universally accepted truths. Vesak festival is celebrated highly by Buddhists all around the world. It is a colorfull festival where people enjoy themselves as well as carry on a lot of good deeds.
Prince Siddhartha; the son of King Suddhodhana and Queen Mahamaya was born in the park Lumbini which was situated at the middle of Kimbulwathpura and Devdahanuwara of early India. These area are now parts of Nepal. According to legendary it is said that while Queen Mahamaya was on her way to her maiden home to give birth to her son per their traditions, she wanted to look at the beautiful Sal trees in Lumbini park. While she was visiting the place was when she gave birth to the prince. It is said that after the prince was born, seven lotus flowers arose from ground and the prince started to walk on them and recited a gatha or a manthra.
"Aggo hamasmi lokassa - Jettho hamasmi lokassa - settho hamasmi lokassa - aymanthima jathi naththi dhani punabhavo"
This script was said in pali language. It's translation is that, "I am the chief in the world, There is no equal to me, I am supreme, This is my last birth, No rebirth for me".
Lumbini Sal Uyana (Park)
The other main reason of celebrating Vesak is the enlightenment of sage Siddhartha. This is the most sacred of all reasons as attaining Buddha hood is considered the most difficult and next to impossible for any of us. Attaining Buddha hood has to be one's goal for almost millennium of life spans and Lord Gautama Buddha had to hope and had to sacrifice many worldly pleasures for nearly 550 life times. It is on this very poya day that prince Siddhartha after defeating all impurities and purifying his mind and soul attained Buddha hood under the Bo tree in Gayawa near river Anoma. It's only through his own insight and determination that prince Siddhartha was able to achieve enlightenment. As I said before attaining Buddha hood is quite impossible for all living beings as it is very rare occasions that people can sacrifice that much throughout his births. Therefore with the gained experience and supreme knowledge Lord Buddha explained to all living beings the path to freedom; "nirvana" (a place with no stimulation of pain and sorrow).
Henceforth Lord Buddha preached dharma to all humans helping them to overcome these briers and barriers that objects their path to nirvana. So, Vesak indeed is a day that bought salvation to all living beings in the world.
The sacred Bo tree where Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment.
It is on this very day that Lord Buddha visited Kimbulwathpura for the first time after attaining Buddha hood. On this voyage, King Suddhodhana worshiped Buddha for the third time and Queen yashodhara (wife of prince Siddhartha) sent their son Prince Rahula to Lord Buddha asing for deeds, Lord Buddha in return made the seven year old prince a thero. At this very visit is where Lord Buddha had to play the yamamahapelahara, where from one eye fire and from the other eye water was projected. This was showed to destroy the proud of the Shakyans. (prince Siddhartha's lay family)
The other reason is the saddest of all, but shows us the true nature of everything in this world. Which is the uncertainty of things. Even a supreme being as Lord Buddha passed away indicating us that nothing is forever. The last words of Lord Buddha was that,
"Handadani Bhikkawe amanthiyami, vaya dhamma sankara, ampamadena sampadetha"
Translation : Brethren whatever in this universe is bound to be destroyed and perished. Therefore engage in meritorious deeds as much as possible.
With that lord Buddha passed away submerging the whole universe in a dark void that cannot be completed for another thousands of years in the Kusinara Sal Park of King Malla.
In the present Buddhists celebrate vesak with great enthusiasm and devotion. Usually the Vesak Poya day and day after the poya day is a national holiday in countries like Sri Lanka. Many sil campaigns (where people observe 8 or 10 verdicts instead of the pansil) is organized in temples world wide. Dharma preaching is done by priests and alms (food) are given to priests. Meticulous deeds are found on every inch of the land and people are more philanthropist on this day. Some campaigns called dansal where free food are given to all civilians are organized by different groups in the society. This is especially a very rare occasion found almost only in Sri Lanka. There are rice dansals, drinks, ice - cream dansals etc.
Apart from them every Buddhist house is decorated with Buddhist flags. Vesak lanterns are constructed by Buddhist children with various shapes. Pandols are built by people on roads decorated with varieties of colorful lights and depicts a jathaka story (stories of Lord Buddha's past life) from them. They not only add color to the festival, but also gives a meaningful lesson for the society. Lamps are lighted by people to illuminate premises with a soft glow.
Vesak festival is truly a sight to see.