The Festival of the Tooth – An extended and lavish holiday which commemorates a holy relic of Buddha, his eye tooth.
Kandy is a beautiful city in Sri Lanka. On a small hill is a great temple which was especially built to house a relic of the Buddha – his tooth. The tooth can never be seen, as it is kept deep inside may caskets. But once a year in August, on the night of the full moon, there is a special procession for it. But other festivities occur on ten days leading to that final day.
The dates of the festival vary from year to year. In 2017, the festival runs from July 29 thru August 8th. The Festival begins with the cutting of a sanctified young jack tree. Branches of the tree are then planted near the shrines of the four guardian gods Natha (a Buddhist savior), Vishnu (for safeguarding Buddhism in Sri Lanka), Kataragama (protector of the south) and the goddess Pattini (goddess of health and fertility). Traditionally, this was a ritual performed to ask the gods for blessings on the King and the people.
For the next five nights, festive dancing and drumming are held outside each of the temples. On the sixth night of the festival, processions begin from each shrine and parade toward the Temple of the Tooth. The processions get longer and more magnificent for the next three nights.
The highlight is on the last night of the processions: an enormous elephant carries a gold casket containing a replica of the Tooth Relic as the drummers and dancers enthrall the crowd along the route. The drummers and dancers themselves are followed by elephants and other groups of musicians, dancers and flag bearers.
After nights of processions, a water cutting ceremony brings the festival to an end at dawn, when priests representing each of the four temples walk into the Mahaweli River, “cut” a circle in the water with a sword and fill pitchers with water from within the circle. The water is kept till the next year’s Esala Perahera, when the pitcher will be freshly filled again.
The next day, Kandyan chieftains in ancient regalia, march to the Presidential mansion in Kandy, following royal tradition, to report to the Head of State, the successful completion of the annual event.
The story behind the tooth is as follows:
It was believed that if the Bodhi Tree that came into contact with the Buddha had the power to bring rains, then the parts of His own body had much greater power to invite rains. With this in mind, the sacred tooth relic was brought all the way from Kalinga in India to the island of Sri Lanka in the fourth century AD. At the time, the sacred tooth relic was brought to Sri Lanka, the king was Sri Megha varna. His name itself meant ‘the Resplendent one whose complexion is that of the Rain-cloud’.
The time when the sacred tooth was brought to Sri Lanka was around six centuries after the sapling of the sacred Bodhi Tree was brought into the island country. However, very soon, the popularity of the sacred tooth surpassed that of the Bodhi Tree. The simple reason for this was that it could be moved any number of times from one place to another, very unlike the Bodhi Tree itself. Also, the possesion of the tooth relic soon became a matter of power and claim to rule the land. The king who had possession of the tooth relic had the authority to rule the land and, wars were fought to keep the relic from falling into hostile hands.
This is amply manifested in the attempt made by the kings when the Europeans enhanced their power in the island country. King Senarath quickly transported the relic a little distance away from Kandy when the Portuguese came to close for his comfort. Later, the significance of the tooth relic became known to the Europeans themselves. They wasted no time and made it their primary goal to get hold of the precious relic. The British succeeded in 1818, and the people themselves gave up all efforts to prevent the former from ruling them, all because the British possessed the tooth relic.
Historically, a number of festivals were celebrated to honor the sacred tooth relic right from time it came to Sri Lanka. Initially, processions or peraheras were taken out for the tooth relic alone. However, later, the festival was incorporated with another festival meant to appease the rain god, the Esala peraheras. At this time, a Kandyan king, Kirti Shri Rajasinghe was in power and he made it possible for the common people to worship the relic by announcing that it would be taken out in a procession for the masses to see and offer their prayers. Before this, the tooth relic was the property of the king and the common people were not allowed to worship it.
Source: Wikipedia and My Odyssey Tours
After a tough winter the chills have become bearable, the Hemis monastery opens its doors to enjoy festivities. The date every year changes as it is celebrated every year on the tenth day of the Lunar calendar of the Tibetan month. The dates for this festival vary from year to year. in 2017 it falls on July 3 and 4.
The festival highlight is the Dance performances and plays by masked Lamas. The masked dance represents the good prevailing over evil. The participants of the spellbinding performance are dressed in vibrant costumes and bright masks. Every mask has its own place in Tibetan and Buddhist legends. Signifying aspects of good and evil, they are designed as humble, divine faces, animals, skeletons and numerous frightful figurines. Dancers can be seen with slow dance movements and fanciful expressions.
The masked dance performance is created on music medley of sounds of drums, trumpets and cymbals. The famous Padmasambhava dance, the highlight of the dance shows the victory of the ruta demons. The dances are spellbinding as the divine is represented and its said to be purifying your soul.
Here are some video clips:
Based on Tibetan and Buddhist Legends, Hemis Festival is said to have its origins back in 8th Century. Lord Padmasambhava also known as Guru Rimpoche is believed to be the local savior who banished demons and evil spirits. The spiritual leader is said to have introduced of Tantric Buddhism in the Himalayan Kingdom. Combining the teachings of Buddhism and Tibetan culture, a new way was established where life was entwined with prayers, austere life and a higher calling.The birth of Guru Rimpoche also known as Lord Padmasambhava is the occasion which is celebrated during Hemis Festival. The spiritual leader is conferred as the local savior.
The mask dance performance is the main attraction of the Hemis Festival
Ever seen Lamas dance? Well here they do, in their tell tale burgundy and mustard yellow attires. The old and the young gather to partake and witness this performance, the re-telling of their ancient mythological stories and folklore. The real spectacle is provided by the masked performers wearing horns, multicolored ribbons and brocade clothes that shine in the bright July sun. And believe me, some of those masks are more expressive than us.
The Chams are a part of the Tantric tradition performed to a cacophony of indigenous musical instruments. The music starts on a slow note and quickly picks up pace as the narrative becomes intense. It keeps building up to a hair raising climax when the leader of the Black Hat dance strikes down the devils idols (made of dough) in combat victory. The message is one that been around for eternity, that good prevails over evil. Its execution through the masked dance performance is what takes your breath away.
Every 12th year known as the Tibetan Year of the Monkey, Hemis Monastery Festival takes an auspicious turn.The unfurling of the largest Thangkha (12 metres) from the second floor of the monastery for the world to see happened in 2016, and won’t happen again for another 12 years. The scripture is worth seeing as it’s so delicately preserved.
Inside the monastery and outside during the festival check out the stalls. From delightful tastes of the mountain Kingdom to unique handicrafts of the region the sight are wonderful. Residents of remote villages, adventure seekers, photographers and travelers make their way here to be a part of the festival.
Other Ways To Celebrate:
I have been enjoying the book, 365 Goddess. In this book, the author explores a different goddess every day in the context of rituals, feast days, holidays, festivals, and celebrations from around the world. Today is the celebration is the Hemis festival.
This festival includes a ritual play in which all manner of mythic creatures are poised against the Tibetan lamas, symbolizing the battle between good and evil. bells, censers, cymbals, and drums draw in positive magic, banish evil, and win the fight for goodness.
The goddesses assigned for this day are the Ratna Dakinis. In Tibet, these goddesses rule over all gestures of goodness and compassion, which naturally help improve karma. Collectively, their names mean “inestimable,” showing us the true power and value in acts of kindness that are driven by a pure heart.
The book also includes ideas for simple magical rituals and/or easy spells that are in keeping with the theme for the day. And so we find that for the Hemis festival the themes are the: banishing; victory; kindness; karma, and the color yellow.
For today, the suggestions are to wear something yellow, and also try to keep the Ratna Dakinis in mind so that your actions will be gentle and filled with kindness. You could also, using yellow ribbons, string together a collection of small bells for a Ratna Dakinis house amulet. Hold these in your hand and empower them by saying:
Let your goodness ring, let purity sing,
with each wind Ratna Dakinis’ blessing bring!
Hang these where they will catch the wind regularly, releasing the magic.
Other ideas include the following:
Do something nice for someone who’s been feeling blue lately, “just because”. Give them some yellow flowers, offer a hug, or maybe make an extra bell amulet for them too! This boosts good karma, makes both of you feel good, and invokes Ratna Dakinis’ blessings through thoughtfulness.
Note: This post was put together by Shirley Twofeathers, you may repost and share it only if you give me credit and a link back to this website. Blessed be.
This is the holiest day of all Buddhist days marking the birth, enlightenment and nirvana of the Lord Buddha. It is celebrated on many different dates, and in many different ways all over the world.
In many east Asian countries Buddha’s Birth is celebrated on the 8th day of the 4th month in the Chinese lunar calendar (in Japan since 1873 on April 8 of the Gregorian calendar), and the day is an official holiday in Hong Kong, Macau, and South Korea. The date falls from the end of April to the end of May in the Gregorian calendar.
In Nepal, Buddha’s birthday is celebrated on the full moon day of May. In 2017, the holiday occurs on May 10. The festival is known by various names, Buddha Jayanti, Buddha Purnima, Vaishakh Purnima and Vesak. Purnima means full moon day in Sanskrit. Among the Newars of Nepal, the festival is known as Swanya Punhi, the full moon day of flowers. The day marks not just the birth of Shakyamuni Gautam Buddha but also the day of his Enlightenment and Mahaparinirvana. But as a gentle effect of the West, the event of the birth is given paramount importance.
The event is celebrated by gentle and serene fervor, keeping in mind the very nature of Buddhism. People, especially women, go to common Viharas to observe a rather longer-than-usual, full-length Buddhist sutra, as something like a service. The usual dress is pure white. Kheer, a sweet rice porridge is commonly served to recall the story of Sujata, a maiden who, in Gautama Buddha’s life, offered the Buddha a bowl of milk porridge after he had given up the path of asceticism following six years of extreme austerity. This event was one major link in his enlightenment.
It is said that the Buddha originally followed the way of asceticism to attain enlightenment sooner, as was thought by many at that time. He sat for a prolonged time with inadequate food and water, which caused his body to shrivel so as to be indistinguishable from the bark of the tree that he was sitting under. Seeing the weak Siddhartha Gautama, a girl named Sujata placed a bowl of milk in front of him as an offering. Realising that without food one can do nothing, the Buddha refrained from harming his own body.
The birth of Buddha or Tathagata is celebrated in India, especially in Sikkim, Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh, Bodh Gaya, various parts of North Bengal such as Kalimpong, Darjeeling, and Kurseong, and Maharashtra (where 6% of total population are Buddhists) and other parts of India as per Indian calendar. The day is celebrated much the same way as in Nepal.
Visakha Puja, the year’s greatest religious holiday, which commemorates the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death, comes during seeding and plowing. This is the holiest day of all Buddhist days marking the birth, enlightenment and nirvana of the Lord Buddha.
Buddhists will make merits and attend sermons at the temples (Wat). In the evening, Buddhist monks lead the laity in a magnificent candle-light triple circumambulation of Buddhist chapels throughout the country.Village elders attend temple celebrations and sermons during the day.
Those who have been working all day in the fields return at dusk to join the lovely candle or torchlit procession that circumambulates the temple chapel three times. Enacted in every village, town and city Wat (temple), each person carries flowers, three glowing incense sticks and a lighted candle in silent homage to the Buddha, his teaching and his disciples.
In Japan, Buddha’s birth is also celebrated according to the Buddhist calendar but is not a national holiday. On this day, all temples hold Kanbutsu-e or Hana-matsuri, meaning ‘Flower Festival’. The first event was held at Asuka-dera in 606.
Japanese people pour ama-cha (a beverage prepared from a variety of hydrangea) on small Buddha statues decorated with flowers, as if bathing a newborn baby.
Lotus Lantern Festival celebrating Buddha’s Birthday, is celebrated in South Korea according to the Lunisolar calendar. This day is called Seokga tansinil, meaning “Buddha’s birthday” or Bucheonim osin nal meaning “the day when the Buddha came.”.
Lotus lanterns cover the entire temple throughout the month which are often flooded down the street. On the day of Buddha’s birth, many temples provide free meals and tea to all visitors. The breakfast and lunch provided are often sanchae bibimbap.
In Sri Lanka:
This is one of the major festivals in Sri Lanka. It is celebrated on the first full moon day of the month of May. People engage in religious observances and decorate houses and streets with candles and specially made paper lanterns. some stores give out free meals for people.
In specific places, there are buildings made out of light bulbs but from a distance it represents pictures from the Buddha’s life. They are called vesak thorun (Pandals). People sing songs called “bhakthi geetha”.
Among the many practicing Buddhists in the United States, Buddha’s Birthday (Hana-Matsuri) is widely celebrated on April 8 of the standard Gregorian calendar.
In 1968 on April 8 in the California Bay Area, the first circumambulation of Mt. Tamalpais to celebrate Buddha’s Birthday was conducted. The director of the Esalen at Stanford program designed a leaflet and had it distributed to all universities in the Bay Area. Some brought sleeping bags and slept overnight in Muir Woods to enable an early start up the Dipsea Trail.
For the several hundred people involved, it was an unforgettable day clear, sunny, calm, and somewhat warm. Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, and Philip Whalen were there. Taught by Gary and Allen, we chanted a different mantra at every station of the clockwise circumambulation. We all stopped for lunch on a sunny hillside. Allen brought miso for lunch, and he passed it around for others to enjoy.
Starting in 1969 on April 8 (and into the 1970s) at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, Hana-Matsuri was celebrated each spring. Dressed in formal black robes, the roughly 70 monks and students formed a formal procession to the Horse Pasture with the leader periodically ringing a small, clear bell.
A temporary stone altar was built under a huge oak tree in a gorgeous field of green grass and abundant wildflowers; a small statue of a baby Buddha was placed upon it in a metal basin. Then each person would in turn approach the altar, ladle one thin-lipped bamboo dipperful of sweet green tea over the statue, bow, and walk to one side. How haunting and mysterious – the juxtaposition of formality, ritual and wild Nature.
Some places have a public holiday one week later, on the fifteenth day of the fourth month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar, to coincide with the full moon. The names for this festival vary with each country, for instance Visakha Puja in Thailand or Lễ Phật đản in Vietnam. In some countries it is a public holiday, in others it is not.
Bodhi Day, celebrated on December 8, is the Buddhist holiday that commemorates the day that the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama (Shakyamuni), experienced enlightenment, also known as bodhi in Sanskrit and Pali. According to tradition, Siddhartha had recently forsaken years of extreme ascetic practices and resolved to sit under a peepal tree and simply meditate until he found the root of suffering, and how to liberate oneself from it.
Services and traditions vary among Buddhist sects, but all such services commemorate the Buddha’s achievement of Nirvana, and what this means for Buddhism today. Individuals may choose to commemorate the event through additional meditation, study of the Dharma, chanting of Buddhist texts (sutras), or performing kind acts towards other beings. Some Buddhists celebrate with a traditional meal of tea, cake, and readings.
Celebrating Bodhi Day
Bodhi Day, the day of enlightenment, can be celebrated in many ways. To the Buddhist, it is a day of remembrance and meditation, much like the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus on December 25th.
To the layman, a good way of recognizing this important event in Buddhism is to dwell on its meaning and place reminders in the home of this event. Often, colored lights are strung about the home to recognize the day of enlightenment. They are multi-colored to symbolize the many pathways to enlightenment. The lights are turned on each evening beginning on December 8th and for 30 days thereafter. A candle is also lit for these thirty days to symbolize enlightenment.
In Buddhist homes, you will sometimes see a ficus tree of the genus ficus religiousa. Beginning on Bodhi Day, these trees are decorated with multi-colored lights, strung with beads to symbolize the way all things are united, and hung with three shiny ornaments to represent the Three Jewels – The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.
A meal of rice and milk is significant on this holiday. According to Buddhist legend, following his awakening this was the first meal offered to the Buddha by Sujata to help him regain strength.
To get children involved in this holiday, make cookies in the shape of a leaf or a tree to symbolize the Bodhi Tree. The leaves of the Bodhi tree are heart shaped, so a Valentine’s Day cookie cutter can be a handy tool for this project.
About the Great Awakening:
Traditions vary on what happened. Some say Siddhartha made a great vow to Nirvana and Earth to find the root of suffering, or die trying. In other traditions, while meditating he was harassed and tempted by the god Mara (literally, “Destroyer” in Sanskrit), demon of illusion. Other traditions simply state that he entered deeper and deeper states of meditation, confronting the nature of the self.
In the Pali Canon, there are several discourses said to be by Buddha himself, relating to this story. In The Longer Discourse to Saccaka, the Buddha describes his Enlightenment in three stages:
- During the first watch of the night, the Buddha discovered all of his past lives in the cycle of rebirth, realizing that he had been born and reborn countless times before.
- During the second watch, the Buddha discovered the Law of Karma, and the importance of living by the Eightfold Path.
- During the third watch, the Buddha discovered the Four Noble Truths, finally reaching Nirvana.
In his words:
“ My heart, thus knowing, thus seeing, was released from the fermentation of sensuality, released from the fermentation of becoming, released from the fermentation of ignorance. With release, there was the knowledge, ‘Released.’ I discerned that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.’ ”
All traditions agree that as the morning star rose in the sky in the early morning, the third watch of the night, Siddhartha finally found the answers he sought and became Enlightened, and experienced Nirvana. Having done so, Siddhartha now became a Buddha or “Awakened One”.