2020 May 6
Now, if you’re a Sri Lankan, chances are Vesak has always played a huge role in your life. It doesn’t matter if you’re admiring the colourful Vesak lanterns across towns or standing in line for an ice-cream dansala or even observing Sil at your local temple.
Come May, the streets will start lining up with banners for upcoming dansals and hundreds of vendors selling all kinds knick-knacks from decorative lights, to light ‘buckets’ and Vesak koodu of all forms – from fully completed ones to bare lanterns made of wood, plastic or steel… the options are endless – because no one celebrates Vesak like Sri Lanka does!
With the prevailing situation of the COVID-19 outbreak within the country still to be contained, Vesak this year will most likely be notable for its lack of colour and absence of communities coming together to celebrate the biggest event in the Buddhist calendar. Here are a few things we will miss this time around.
Seeing the Vesak Lights (AKA “Vesak Balanawa”)
Personally, I can’t recall a single Vesak that my family decided to sit out on. It was almost as if it was a tradition. I know for a fact that that is something we are all bound to miss. Driving along the road, you couldn’t help but be thankful for the heavy traffic (for at least once in your life) giving you the chance to be awed by the brightly lit streets, lined with hundreds upon hundreds of Vesak lanterns, by the larger than life “karakena koodu” (rotating lanterns), and simply by all the creativity put out to show.
Gangaramaya Temple, as many of us might be aware, is renowned for pulling out all the stops when it comes to celebrating Vesak – giving us quite the ‘instagrammable’ experience we’ll definitely be missing this year!
And how could we ever forget the gloriously lit Thorana (each telling it’s own unique story off of the “550 Jathakaya”) Simply said – this is one lit week for all of Sri Lanka.
That being said, just because you won’t be able to see Vesak this year, it’s no reason to skip out on going all out in decorating your homes! If you’re normally the one to buy lanterns, take this year to master the skill of making one from scratch. You don’t have to do it alone either. Make it a point to get the family together, and maybe even have a little competition amongst yourselves!
Visiting Dansal is a whole other experience in and of itself. We Sri-Lankans love our dansal no matter what is being offered. From warm packets of Fried Rice to spicy kottu, kadala or even Ice-cream. These dansal are also known for its variety of beverages from ice-coffee, milo, plain tea or even apple juice. You aren’t in Sri Lanka if you’re not stopped by strangers in the middle of the road offering you an icy Sunquick drink to beat the heat during the season of Vesak.
It’s at these dansals that you truly see the spirit of Vesak. And even if you don’t stop at a dansala, it’s still calming in its own way, to see the faces of little kids light up as they receive an ice cream, or the warm smiles of the homeless as they receive a meal fit for a king!
One of the most important aspects of Vesak is reflecting on the teachings of the Buddha and his message of love and compassion. And there’s no better way to do this than by observing sil. While you would normally head over to your local temple – adorned with bright lights – and take part in religious observances any other year, this Vesak is not the same. This time around the serenity of being at a temples’ premises will be missed as you would observe sil with your loved ones together as a family, and reflect on the teachings of the Buddha, at home.
So while we will definitely miss going out to see Vesak with our families, or taking part in the plethora of dansals usually put up at this time of year, we have to remember, especially at times as uncertain as these, that in its essence, Vesak is a celebration. A celebration of the Buddha’s life and his teachings. So take this time to reflect on all that’s good in the world as we celebrate the true spirit of Vesak, right from our homes!
What’s your favourite memory of Vesak? Let us know in the comments.