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Candles and joss sticks are burnt during Vesak Day to remind all worshippers that life is fleeting and transient.

Photo by Nathaniel Hayag

Festivities for Vesak Day begin at the crack of dawn in Singapore, as devout Buddhists congregate at temples for a ceremony.

This is when the Buddhist flag is hoisted, and hymns are sung in praise of the Buddha, the Dharma (his teachings), and the Sangha (his disciples).

Offerings and good deeds

Offerings of flowers, candles and joss sticks are also brought to the temples. The fact that the candles and joss sticks burn down and the flowers wither through the day is meant to remind all worshippers that life is fleeting and transient, that all things decay and eventually pass away.

The rest of the day is spent on worthy causes, as devotees believe that performing good deeds on Vesak Day will multiply merit many times over.

Only vegetarian meals are eaten even as Buddhists organise mass blood donations at hospitals, visit homes for the aged or distribute gifts of cash to the needy. Others release caged birds and animals, a symbol of liberation for Buddhists, or spend hours chanting mantras.

Candlelight processions

Statues of the Lord Buddha are illuminated, and the day often ends with candlelight processions through the streets.

Head to Phor Kark See Temple on Bright Hill Road for a peek at one such procession.

This is where you’ll see devotees practise the two-hour-long ‘three-step, one-bow’ ritual, taking steps on both knees, bowing at every third step as they pray for world peace, personal blessings and repentance.

What's Unique

The waters of life

One of the most popular rituals you will notice on Vesak Day is that of ‘bathing’ the Buddha. Worshippers crowd around basins or pools decorated with garlands of flowers and dominated by a small central elevated statue of the child Siddhartha. Ladlefuls of water are scooped from the basin and poured over the statue, in remembrance of the legend that the infant prince was showered with the waters of nine dragons soon after he was born.

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