On Vesak Day, Buddhists worldwide commemorate events of significance to Buddhists from all traditions: the birth, Enlightenment and the Parinirvana of Shakyamuni Buddha. As Buddhism spread across the world, it was assimilated into various foreign cultures. This explains why Vesak Day is observed in a variety of ways.
The decision to agree on celebrating Vesak Day as the Buddha’s birthday was formalised at the first Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists held in Sri Lanka in 1950. On this appointed day, Buddhists assemble at their various temples for rituals and offerings. Flowers, candles and joss-sticks alongside other offerings are made to the Buddha. These offerings remind followers of the impermanence of life; just as the beautiful flowers would wither away and the candles and joss-sticks would soon burn out, all phenomena too is subject to impermanence and change.
Many temples also display a small image of the baby Prince Siddhartha in a small basin filled with water and decorated with flowers – this is to allow believers to make “bath offering” to the Prince. This act symbolises the purification of a practitioner’s bad karma and re-enacts the events following the Prince’s birth, when the heavenly beings made celestial offerings to the soon-to-be-Buddha.