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Celebrating Buddha's Birthday
Celebrating Buddha's Birthday

A religion with a sum of believers estimated to number 350 million, Buddhism is the fourth-largest religion in the world, and it is observed in countries as diverse as Vietnam, China, Japan and the USA.

A religion that teaches peace, harmony and enlightenment, one of its largest celebrations takes place in May, when people who follow the Mahayana branch of the faith celebrate and pray on the date said to mark Prince Siddhartha Gautama's birth.

South Korean Carnivals
A country with a sizeable Buddhist population, Korea's take on the celebration of Buddha's Birthday is an exciting experience. Known as "seokga tansinil", the majority of the country's population join approximately 15 million Buddhist followers for a public holiday, while the date itself also serves as a time for the celebration of traditional South Korean culture.

During the day, millions visit temples across the length and breadth of South Korea. Here, the monks serve up a breakfast or lunch of bibimbab – a traditional dish of rice, bracken fiddleheads, seaweed, vegetables and chilli paste – to visitors and worshippers alike. Carnivals featuring dragon parades, lanterns and acrobatics can also be enjoyed throughout the country, all of which ensure visitors have an exciting and culturally interesting day.

Gyeongju Lanterns

Floral Japan
In Japan, the Buddha's Birthday is focused primarily towards children, and is known as the Kambatsu-e nativity festival, or Hana Matsuri – the Flower Festival. In each of the Buddhist temples across the country, a hall is devoted to the display of brightly coloured flowers. Here, children are given a sweet tea boiled from hydrangea leaves, which they then pour over the head of a Buddha statue.

The celebration recreates the legend that states when the Buddha was born, he took seven steps and spoke: "I alone am the World-Honoured One" (in essence, saying that he represented all beings in the universe). At this moment nine dragons appeared in the sky and poured heavenly water on the Buddha, thereby baptising him.

Buddhist Temple

Reverential China
In both China and Hong Kong, Buddha's Birthday is a time when the population show their thanks to their local Buddhist temples and monks. Gifts of food are presented to the monks, people light incense, lanterns are lit and statues of the Buddha are covered in ritual waters.

In Hong Kong the celebration is observed as a public holiday, and across the country performances of Shaolin Kung Fu, acrobatics and other traditions are performed in front of huge audiences. Charity sales are also undertaken in order to raise funds for those in need.

When to visit
While the festivities themselves are observed in a similar fashion across Asia, the precise dates vary from country to country, so it is always a good idea to check before you buy tickets and hotel reservations. In South and Southeast Asia, for example, 2015's celebration occurred on May 4th, and 2016’s happens on May 21st – the date in the Buddhist calendar that corresponds with the full moon day of the month of Vaisakha.

In East Asia, the event occurs on the 8th day of the 4th month of the Chinese lunar calendar – May 14th in 2016 – while in Japan it takes place on the Gregorian date of April 8th.

For more information on festivities taking place near Kempinski's Asian destinations, please feel free to get in contact.

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