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Buddha’s birthday: When is it and how is it celebrated in different countries?

The birthday of the historical Buddha or Shakyamuni Buddha, known as Vesak in several countries, celebrates the birth of the child who became Prince Siddhartha around the end of the 4th century B.C. This is a holy occasion for all Buddhists, but is celebrated on different dates depending on the school of Buddhism or country to which one belongs. In several Asian countries, it is observed on the eighth day of the fourth month of the lunisolar calendar, which this year falls on May 15. In several South and Southeast Asian countries, it is celebrated on the first full moon of May, which falls on May 23.


Siddhartha was born in Lumbini, which is at the border of what is India and Nepal today. His mother, Maya, was the wife of Suddhodana, king of the Shakya clan. According to Buddhist lore, when she conceived, the queen dreamed that an auspicious white elephant entered her womb. A number of texts recount the child’s miraculous birth, detailing how the baby was received by the gods Indra and Brahma, and took seven steps soon after he was born. He is then believed to have received a cleansing bath from the gods, or dragon kings, depending on the country or culture where the legend originated.

Suddhodana sheltered his son from pain and suffering, believing that keeping him isolated would put him on the path to becoming king. However, he could not protect Siddhartha for long, and the prince began to reflect after witnessing sickness, old age and death. Disillusioned by the impermanence of life, Siddhartha engaged in six years of ascetic practice and attained enlightenment at the age of 35 in Bodh Gaya in northeast India. He then became known as the Buddha, which means “the awakened one.”